Friday, November 12, 2010

Sekstett - Gjerstad, Skaset, Grenager, Tatjord, Molstad, Moe [Conrad Sound]/Bay/Oslo Mirror Trio - Bay/Oslo Mirror Trio [Conrad Sound]

A pair of great jazz/ improv CDs here from Norwegian label Conrad Sound.
Sekstett is just that. It features six players on clarinet, guitar, cello, double bass, as well as french horn and tuba! The first piece "6.1" is the shortest at 5 minutes and its a very nice, spacious piece. There isn't a consistent melody throughout but despite the occasional passage that lets a single instrument ruminate, it's overall fairly mellow and melodic due to the bassist's work. As the piece travels the sextet moves into stranger, more dissonant territory. The upright bass sits in as a percussionist and the cellist saws away like a violinist high up on the fingerboard. The following piece "6.2" picks up in bizarre territory. It's hard to describe the frightening things going on in the headphones now, the wind instruments literally sound like wind whistling through the forest. The cello sounds like it's being rubbed with sand paper and the bass and possibly guitar too are producing guttural animal-like groans. It's not much more comforting when the six join together for a droning passage. The clarinetist improvises a nice little melody which is a bit of a surprise but before long it's back to the creep and crackle. You think the piece is winding down but it's a fake out. The group gets jittery and rhythmic in the last four minutes or so, balancing slaps, scratches, squeaks and bleats. I love how tactile and dynamic the record sounds; it has this strange ambiance, a light natural reverb to the instruments lending an amazingly tactile feel to the record. I wonder what kind of space this was recorded in, as it was the perfect choice for this heady exercise in friction. "6.3" lets the wind instruments loose. They don't get particularly wild but the rumbling string section permits them to wax melodic over top rather than having to swallow their notes like in other tracks. The tuba provides an ominous, bowel-curdling dirge taking the piece in an oddly dark and gelatinous direction. "6.4" has a great opening, with pitter-pattering muted guitar and cello, the bass and tuba back the track with slow, subterranean swells. The other wind instruments get in on it too making for a very tense push/pull between random sputtering clacks and a slow slow slow motion throb. With around 4 minutes to go, one of the wind instruments breaks everything up with a piercing cry and it's a cautious comeback as the group gradually reconvenes. When they do, they somehow create bizarre UFO transmission/cooing gremlin textures. This is probably the most out there track, and it might be the best because of it. The final piece "6.5" features heavy bowing from the bass which the other members rally around. The result is seasick slo-mo jazz with various solos happening at once while the arrangement sways queasily forward. It's easily the most active track here as all players seem to be getting agitated and jumpy, spurting forth ideas with a variety approaches. All in all though, the group impressively keeps everything together, united in their dissonance. The breakdown with 3 minutes to go, the first point that introduces some semblance of structure, is excellent with a repeated string pluck and wary drones surrounding it. I don't know anything about these players so I don't know how long they've have been at this game but there's a pretty stunning maturity here paired with a hunger for the strange and challenging. No one overplays; there's an incredible, nearly telepathic, chemistry present here which is staggering considering there's six individual minds and 12 sets of hands at work here.
Both artists are sextets but the Bay/Oslo Mirror Trio try to trick you. The explanation behind the name is that three members Guro Skumsenes Moe, Havard Skaset and Kyrre Laastad (on double bass, guitar and drums respectively) hail from Oslo. The other three Tony Dryer, Ava Mendoza and Jacob Felix Heule (Ettrick) also on double bass, guitar and drums, hail from the bay area in California. So you got the Bay/Oslo thing, and since they are two trios with mirrored instrumentation they decided to put it all together as Bay/Oslo Mirror Trio.
"V1" is the first of 11 tracks, beginning with a lot of silence and only an occasional thump of bass or drums, there's some swelling e-bowed guitars later before it comes to a close. The latter continues in the second piece "H1" but it's the basses that really add the most dimension here. The glistening cymbals and gently buzzing guitars highlight the see-sawing grey clouds of the uprights. "V2" switches things up moving into certified skronk territory. I can't decide whether I like the Trio better in their controlled mode or when they throw caution to the wind and let loose completely as they do here. Lots of squiggly lines, coming mainly from the guitars, but the rhythm section(s) do a great job navigating between freak out and a keeping of the beat. "V3" continues to groove in that direction. The basses are rubbed raw over lightly jangling drum kits and wildly pitch-manipulated guitar smears. "H2" is all rattle, rustle and crackle quietly drifting by. "H3" drags by rather than drifts. I mean that literally, it sounds like the sextet is dragging tin cans, bicycles and other junk down the street. A continuous 4 minute scrape. "V/H1" (VH1??) is a little more in line with the kind of stuff on the Sekstett disc, an atmospheric, slowly clattering creep-jazz affair indulging in silence almost as much as sound. The next piece, "V/H2," retains the vibe but takes a more maximal approach with each player filling his/her respective space. The sextet always creates an interesting array of textures, somehow managing to reconcile strange electronic ones from the guitars with that of the drums and double basses. "V4" even dabbles a little in 50s sci-fi soundtracks which is fun to hear all mixed up in this improv/jazz blender. "H4" showcases the guitars a bit more as the two provide loopy lines over a dim, rumbling percussion section. The first 10 pieces range from 2-4 minutes, but the finale "V5" nearly hits the 10 minute mark. Starting slowly, each instrument contributes a sound here or there to an overall fractured rhythm. It's interesting hearing the Trio in a long form piece after 10 brief segments. They definitely use the space, the nervous energies often present in their shorter pieces are still present here but manifest themselves in a tenser fashion. The jitters are now a constant, mild but debilitating presence rather than violent unexpected spasms. The piece's wind down at the end is excellent as the group locks into a lurching cyclical rhythm before pulling the plug.
Both discs are great, I probably lean a little toward Sekstett because of the fascinating instrumentation and I dig that it's entirely acoustic but you really can't go wrong with either. It looks like Conrad Sound only has a handful of releases to its name so far but it definitely appears to have its finger on the pulse. I'll have to keep an eye on it. Check these out.

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