The trio of Nils Økland (strings), Øyvind Skarbø (drums), and Sigbjørn Apeland (keys) continue to innovate, modestly but to bold effect, on Chromola, a new album to mark the trio’s tenth anniversary.
Their second album, Pintura (2011), consolidated 1982’s signature sound, which I’d characterise as folk-liturgical improv. 1982 + BJ Cole (2012) was an improvised collaboration with the guesting pedal steel player; and A/B (2014) had composer Stian Omenås overlay a 1982 session with a separately-recorded orchestration of brass and wind instruments.
So Chromola marks something of a return to trio basics, except that on all but the last of seven pieces Apeland plays a pipe organ in preference to his usual harmonium.
First impressions are that he brings the same sensibility to bear on both instruments, he exploits the full tonal depth of the pipe instrument, only muting its steely overtones when accentuating its ‘breathing’, with higher, choral effects reserved for chant-like harmonizations and melodic accentuation.
At 40 minutes long the album is quite a long one by 1982’s standards, and there’s more drama than usual on pieces that stretch out or take time to unfold, as its initial cuts do.
On “07:56” (track durations double as identifiers) Skarbø initiates a heavy pulse with timpani mallets, then modulates that pulse to accentuate Apeland’s ornamental flourishes and Økland’s fluent and increasingly sinuous arabesques, tracing the contours of a riverine melody.
“06:19” again features a malleted pulse, and Skarbø keeps steady time behind a richly embellished drone until his late introducton of light kit percussion and crisp cymbal accents, giving this hitherto meditative polyphony a buoyant lift.
In a still setting such as “06:37” (track three), the organ blooms in 3D sustains around the traceries inscribed by Økland’s Hardanger fiddle, intermittently flooding the soundfield with luminescence; then, on “07:00” (track 4), it emits a dark, voluble rumble, isolating and accentuating the brightness of small, sharp hand-held percussion sounds.
Concertina-like inhallations shadowing Økland’s tremulous bowing sound like overdubbed harmonium, but also could be organ – the album was recorded partly in concert, and partly in a church on the following day. In any case, the performances couldn’t be any more cloistered and organic.
Having taken us deep, Apeland responds to Skarbø’s curt, snare-accented, march pulse on “04:03” with trills that flock around Økland’s fiddle’s emotive swells. That directness is then abrogated: “04:45” is free-form and pulseless, with obscure percussve rummaging set to the accompaniment of split-register subterranean rumble and toylike piping.
The final cut, “04:09”, also suspendeds time, being centred on a bloom of harmonium that’s surprising in its passing intensity. Økland’s emotionally direct, unadorned fiddle intro is the thread that we follow in, and it’s Økland who sounds an isolated halfnote of Beckettian expectation at its peremptory ending.
When I first encountered 1982, when Pintura came out, I was immediately taken with their delicate, uncanny improv, but couldn’t quite see how they’d progress. The interim collaborations have strengthened them. On Chromola, their once singular but fragmentary music now seems both fully formed, and as organically mutable as ever.
Nils Økland – Hardanger fiddle, violin; Øyvind Skarbø – drums; Sigbjørn Apeland – pipe organ, harmonium.
Buy Chromola direct from Hubro.