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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Henrik Munkeby Nørstebø / Raymond Strid - Oslo Wien [Va Fongool - 2015]

"Oslo Wien" is an improvised album of Norwegian free jazz by trombonist Henrik Nørstebø, drummer Raymond Strid and double bassist Nina De Heney. 

The album makes no absolutely compromises to the listener, utterly without tempo, structure, or tonality.  The 3 players actively avoid the melodic capabilities of their instruments in favor of a series of stuttering and abrupt call and response gestures, like involuntary spasms or seizures.  This approach does not seem to result in any kind of larger arcs of momentum, as the lengthy untitled pieces don't move in any discernable trajectory from beginning to end, resembling instead strings of moments, short visits to ambiguous locations.

The traditional jazz instrumentation is sometimes barely recognizable due to the odd techniques used to coax sound from the instruments.  A great many ambiguous metallic and wooden rattles, bumps, creaks and taps can be heard, harmonic rich textures cascading in varying degrees of density and control.  At times, the players sustain a roll or a soft 'cloud' of percussive pulsations, and the sound takes on a more ambient quality.

Despite the album's blatant atonality, the mood here is playful rather than aggressive, the whimsicality of a sound like this is in a sense quite primal, being a simple enjoyment of movement, of enunciation, of changing a pattern at a moment's notice simply because it is pleasing.  The often sudden and rapid movements of the players are 'chased' to and fro by the others.

The unprocessed acoustic timbres of the instruments are generally clean and gentle on the ear, as the production of the album is quite good.  The most pleasing sounds on the album come from the overtones of the bowed strings of de Heney's double bass, and the quavering tone of the trombone.

The album, which is divided into 2 disks, "Oslo" and "Wien", is very long, and not for the uninitiated free jazz listener.  A band like this essentially requires listeners to fully engage their mind in listening, following closely the interactions between players and the progression from shape to freeform shape, absorbing the musician's intense concentration on the sound and each other.  Even when I do this, any meaning the sound might have is far from clear.  I believe the musicians are indeed quite focused on their performances here, and yet I still must concede that an album like this is difficult to see as any kind of complete thought or profound vision. 

I feel this is a realm equally accessible to the virtuoso and to the inexperienced, as possible to achieve through randomness as through intense practice and effort.  They are delighting in the act of sound making itself; listening in this way reveals nearly any instrumental texture to be rich with timbral subtlety.  As such, I often recommend people engage in free improvisation sessions of their own rather than pay money for albums such as this one.

I find it very hard to rate the 'quality' of this album.  If you're a rabid fan of free jazz or prepared instrument techniques, I think it's still likely you could find the completely illogical anti-rhythm of this album to be jarring and difficult to derive satisfaction from.  There are all manner of interesting sound textures to be heard here, and the album is well recorded, but I find it incomprehensible that the disoriented, inconclusive stumbling of the rhythms heard on "Oslo Wien" is some kind of artistic statement, or a style which was intentionally attained.  Even in 'free' music, there should be some discernable difference between the way the sound emerges and total randomness, and I'm not sure there is one here.

Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5Rating: 2 out of 5

Josh Landry
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