Talking about the album Cartography, trumpeter Arve Henriksen says, "...I've been feeling uncomfortable with the idea of ending up playing 'improvised jazz.'" It's an unusual thing to say, particularly coming from a musician who has contributed vitally to a host of releases on ECM, one of the most celebrated jazz labels in the world. Is he opposed to improvisation, or to jazz? Or both? It turns out that Henriksen is pioneering, together with a loose collective of like-minded fellow travelers, a potentially radical new idea of both concepts. But one that in the end is a lot friendlier to bedrock conceptions of improvised jazz than Henriksen lets on. And that's just fine.
In principle, what Henriksen is doing on Cartography moves away from jazz improvisation in a perpendicular way, based as his sound is upon remix and sampling. Now, the remixfrom thunderous Jamaican dub to New York dance clubs, spinning an original recorded performance into an insignificant atom among its infinity of reconfigured versionsposes a frontal challenge to traditional conceptions of jazz improvisation. A remix is improvisation, often ingenious, witty, breathtaking as an Art Blakey
drum break, or it can be, but it is unlike jazz improvisation in that it moves the center of attention from the performance to the recorded artifact, from the stage to the studio, from the soloist to the producer.
Sampling, in this musical universe, just adds insult to injury: by building the sound document with found objects of other recordings, the original performance is further devalued and demoted in favor of the producer's bricolage.
Aggressively remixing and sampling is one way that Henriksen and company part company with older ideas of jazz improvisation. But there's another way of looking at it. Henriksen and his comrades in the annual Punkt Festival in Kristiansand, Norway, loving chronicled by AAJ's own John Kelman, remix performances as they happen ("live remix"). Henriksen's band is centered around "live sampler" Jan Bang.
The difference between remix and live remix, between sampling and live sampling, is what makes Henriksen's approach particularly innovative, but also more jazzlike. That is, Henriksen and friends are taking remix and samples back to the stage, putting them back in the hands of the performer. They're deploying these as tools on a par with the instrumentalist's solo or trading fours in the rhythm section.
That's one family resemblance between improvised jazz and what Henriksen does. A second has to do with the community that creates, and is created by, Henriksen's music. Improvisation, if it's effective, depends critically upon a shared understanding of the conceptual framework, the rules of the game, among the musicians. And if the improvisation is to communicate or resonate, the audience too must share some of that understanding. Henriksen and the other Punkt live remixers share just such an understanding. It may not be based on quoting lines from "All The Things You Are," but there is an implicit sense of community when these musicians improvise in their fashion.
High-minded concepts, but what does it sound like? Spare, elegiac, tending to slow the mind's attention like Zen meditation; created with obvious intelligence and attention to craft. Henriksen's breathy, plaintive trumpet playing owes an obvious debt to Jon Hassell
' playing (another unsuspected link to the tradition). And there's poetry by ex-Japan frontman David Sylvian. It's too early to say just where this is going, but eminently worth staying tuned.
Tracks: Poverty and Its Opposite; Before and Afterlife: Part One, Part Two; Migration; From Birth; Ouija; Recording Angel; Assembly; Loved One; The Unremarkable Child; Farmer's Ghost: Part One, Part Two; Thermal; Sorrow and Its Opposite.
Track Listing: Poverty and Its Opposite; Before and Afterlife: Part One, Part Two; Migration; From Birth; Ouija; Recording Angel; Assembly; Loved One; The Unremarkable Child; Farmer's Ghost: Part One, Part Two; Thermal; Sorrow and Its Opposite.