Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær has long been one of the most restless and innovative players in contemporary instrumental music. But, despite the emotional warmth of his trumpet playing, an open embrace of urban/electronic influences and an airless production aesthetic has sometimes made his music seem overwrought.
After several dates for ECM under the leadership of other artists in the early 90s Molvær dropped his own-name debuts Khmer and Solid Ether either side of the new millennium. Khmer was rightly praised at the time for updating the then established ECM blueprint with its beats, samples, loops and effects. Solid Ether went further, introducing light touches of turntablism and drum ‘n’ bass, but it was was also a subtler and more diverse collection, and subsequent recordings for other labels with an ever-changing roll-call of collaborators refined Molvær’s aesthetic, blending Jazz with dense atmospherics.
What’s new with Buoyancy is that this is the second album Molvær has recorded back-to-back with the same small group of musicians – a working band, no less. It sounds very much a collaborative effort, enriched by the nuance and sensitivity that only established sympathies can generate.
Guitarist Geir Sundstöl, a seasoned session player, is new to me, but I know Molvær’s main songwriting partner and bassist Jo Berger Myhre, primarily as a member of Splashgirl, and drummer Erland Dahlen, mostly for his solo recordings on Hubro, cf. the excellent Blossom Bells.
The album, while distinctly Molvær’s work, has a post-Eno, fourth world vibe, with echoes of the rhythm tracks that so distinctively characterized Peter Gabriel’s third and fourth untitled solo albums. Molvær’s tone is elliptically lyrical, less obviously indebted to Miles Davis than he was even on Khmer, not to mention the three ECM albums he recorded in the late 80s with Masqualero.
The songlike blend of trumpet and slide guitar, fuzzed bass fx and solid drumming on lead cut “Ras Mohammad” is instantly identifiable as a Molvær production, as is his plaintive tone, with a fall at the end of every phrase, on “Gilimanuk”.
The album’s sole group composition is Jackson Reef, an uptempo rocker with Sundstöl’s electric guitar very much in the lead. He’s vital too on the mellow but occasionally overcast “Puri Jati”, his sole co-credit, playing resonant slide banjo combined with etherial electric guitar.
“Lamna Reef” shifts down another gear, with Myhre’s bass carrying the pulse, slow handclaps replacing “Puri Jati”‘s malleted rhythm as trumpet and guitar trade minor key lyricism before yielding to electronic treatments.
“Amed”, the longest cut, stretches into compacted, brooding malevolence, with Dahlen’s drums a tightening gyre of implacable polyrhythm and Sundstöl guitar processed to emulate a Hammond organ’s yawing whorl.
“Kingfish Castle” reverts to dark ambience with muffled foley percussion, processed trumpet, vocal/cello drones and fluting electronica. There’s a subtle North African vibe to Molvær’s ravishing top line solo, setting up last cut “Maddagala” to take the album into a gorgeous synecdoche sunset.
Buoyancy and its predecessor, 2014’s Switch, won’t have the impact that Khmer did in its day, but they will probably stand the test of time better. Moving on from the Khmer era’s edgy innovations, Molvær’s most recent recordings, and Buoyancy in particular, are deeply satisfying works of sophisticated maturity.
Nils Petter Molvær trumpet, electronics, effects; Geir Sundstöl guitars, banjos; Jo Berger Myhre bass, keyboards, guitars; Erland Dahlen drums, percussion, xylophone, piano.
Erland Dahlen – Blossom Bells.
Buy Buoyancy via Okeh.