Mats Eilertsen - Reveries and Revelations [Hubro Music - 2019]
Norwegian multi-instrumentalist Mats Eilertsen, member of countless ensembles over the past decades, has created a new record Reveries and Revelations which, though released under his own name, contains several collaborators from the rich Norwegian scene, such as labelmates Geir Sundstol and Arve Henriksen.
While perhaps rooted in a history of listening to jazz and studying jazz techniques, the music found here is not jazz, rather ambient modern classical string composition with folky acoustic timbres like banjo, various strings, trumpet and 'guitar harmonium' (an instrument I've not previously heard of). The group is constantly moving in new directions.
Pieces like "Tundra" make me feel like I'm listening to an album by Stars of the Lid, as colourful chordal washes of strings patiently unfold, dissolving to silence each time before beginning again. The arctic krautrock of "Endless" is based on the 'motorik' plucked 16th note pulse from the double bass. The percussion on much of the album is similarly experimental, handled by one Thomas Strønen, the member of this group with which I have the least familiarity. He seems to enjoy keeping the rhythm sparse, often contributing swelling accents of fills and soft brushwork rather than a locked-in pulse.
The first time Eilertsen's bass playing distinguishes itself is the swampy soliloquy of "Bouvet Blues", a nimbly meandering series of plucks in a bluesy idiom. Elsewhere, his bass is often bowed, for a richly warm texture and pleasant tonal underpinning. Gorgeous, romantic string melodies are often heard in higher registers, leading me to believe other stringed instruments are present, but none are credited, only Eilertsen's bass. If these cello and viola-like tones are truly achieved by Eilertsen on his low register instrument, he is a genius indeed.
"Signal" is a strange dissonant tonal cloud from an unidentifiable instrument, a heady mystic atmosphere achieved by the tinkling chime-like percussion rotating in 360 degrees around the stereo field. Here we enter into esoteric free improvisation territory, something more common in the world of Tzadik and John Zorn than within the Norwegian jazz world, which prefers melody. Indeed, this is only a short passing moment on an otherwise melodic recording. We do get one other moment of atonal experimentation with "Polynesia Pluck", which features a processed/harmonized bass tone that sounds metallic, and not unlike a prepared piano.
Geir Sundstol's gorgeous melancholy banjo playing really makes pieces like "Hardanger", an emotionally cathartic, weeping style that matches the most intense moments of Sigur Ros or Godspeed You, Black Emperor. He, in particular, blends naturally with Eilersten, and Henriksen's sensitive trumpet is the logical 3rd ingredient.
What must be the elusive guitar harmonium appears several times in the album's latter half, including in the final piece "Appreciate", one of the highlights of the album. Henriksen steals the show here with his plaintive melody, his sincerity almost heartbreaking, in certainly the most vintage jazz-flavoured moment to be found on the recording.
Reveries and Revelations is an album that passes quickly as one listens because of its rapid pacing and drastic variety. Perhaps it was the variety of collaborators, but Eilertsen has created an album in which every track is so contrasted as to be a different genre than the previous. The constant throughout it all is a weathered timbral and tonal sweetness, the wistful melodicism of the string work. Even the album's foreboding moments are pleasing to the ears. This can be easily recommended for a wide variety of listeners from the worlds of arctic post-rock to folk, classical and jazz.Josh Landry