Jo Berger Myhre & Ólafur Björn Ólafsson - Lanzarote [Hubro - 2019]Norwegian multi-instrumentalists Jo Berger Myhre and Ólafur Björn Ólafsson have teamed up again for Lanzarote, their 2nd collaboration following The Third Script, released in 2017 on quality jazz/instrumental music label Hubro, which has really opened my eyes 'n' ears to the vibrant Norwegian art music scene.
This album falls on the ambient post rock end of the Hubro spectrum, with domestic sensitivity in its thoughtfully unfolding piano progressions. It is a melancholy record that communicates a sense of wanting, of loss, of feeling compelled to use available time to progress forward, but being unsure how best to do so. It represents the inherent uneasiness of one's imprisonment in a physical form. It provides a cathartic release to aid with the resolving of tumultuous thoughts.
Each of the two players apparently possesses a variety of talents. Jo Berger Myrhe is credited with double bass and multiple vintage synthesizers, including the Prophet 6. Ólafur Björn Ólafsson is responsible for the piano, drums, and additional synth, meaning both in the duo are keyboard players. It is their melodic interplay which is the most memorable aspect of this recording, and that which gives it its feeling.
A lot of the music is in free or loose rhythm, piano notes falling like drops of water around an elastic or implied pulse. There are drums, but the playing is textural rather than sharply defined, with brushed fills providing whirling pockets of momentum to the backdrop. Rock beats do emerge in the most climactic moments of the pieces. Each song is a process of gradually attaining this density. Emotion and dramatic progression are at the fore on this recording; as each piece swells to a dramatic crescendo, the players never lose the sense of tension, of anticipation.
Initially I was confused to hear strings as a prominent voice, as they appeared to be uncredited, then realized that the double bass on this recording is often bowed rather than plucked, exploring emotional melodic realms I typically associate with the cello, even taking on some electric saturation in a heartbreakingly beautiful moment of the third piece, "Both Worlds". Percussive tones do appear from the bass as well, showcasing Olafsson's versatility.
The production on the album is lovely, with the instruments and electronics blending seamlessly through tasteful use of reverb and careful mic placement. The instrumental tones are clear and intimate, and at times soft sounds of the piano's machinery are audible. The use of classic synthesizers adds a wonderful timbral grit to this recording, with tracks like "Mimophant" containing some lovely analog flange and delay, creating that windswept, otherwordly quality of old sci-fi. It is worthy of note that this album must be a studio construction rather than a live jam of any kind, as there are sometimes multiple tracks of the same instrument audible, or more than two instruments at a time.
The windswept winter landscape of this recording is thoughtfully and carefully built, a sequence of blurred colorful impressions with deep emotion in its spacious crevices. It will certainly be too maudlin and lacking in rhythmic energy for some, but also brings a sense of emotional directness and melodic development absent from most free rhythm and improvisational music. All in all, an excellent album for watching the raindrops cascade down the glass of your windowpane and contemplating one's past lovers.Josh Landry