February 19, 2004
Musicians constantly dialogue with two entities: themselves and tradition. Music is rarely ever totally new, but builds on what has come before, adding extensions and responses. As the world of recorded sound grows exponentially, so grows the dialogue’s number of participants. The Finnish-Danish quartet Delirium gleefully takes part in this ongoing conversation, with a brash, beautifully constructed music that stems from an obvious love for playing and the tradition.
Delirium documented their relaxed rapport on their 2002 self-titled Fiasko Records debut . On record, they dialogue with Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry’s groups from the late 60s; live they show their conversation digs even deeper into jazz’s past, to 50s West Coast cool, Ellington small groups and the Kansas City Six. The spirit of Delirium often evokes the wide-open, free-wheeling improv of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Their compositions are band member originals and display an open, dynamic mood that reaches into rock, experimental and world music.
The quartet seems equally at home in the avant-garde and older, more classic forms. In conversation they speak of everyone from Lester Bowie to Ellington’s Blanton-Webster band to visiting Bulgaria and learning first hand the frenetic rhythms of Gypsy celebration music. Later in their hotel they enthuse over Yusef Lateef’s Eastern Sounds , play Ra’s anit-war diatribe ”Nuclear War” and dip into Lucky Thompson’s catalog. Their compositions reflect this omnivorous ear.
Saxophonist Mikko Innanen’s ”Multi-cultural Suite” mutates from an opening dirge marked by Jonas Westergaard’s thick arco sound into a driving powerhouse where the bass pulses against Stefan Pasborg’s shifting propulsion. With the agile, muscular grace of Pat Patrick and deep, bluesy phrases, Innanen snakes through the groove. Westergaard and Pasborg set a hard, swinging pace on another Innanen composition, ”Again Together.” On alto sax now, Innanen constructs a taut, angular solo full of stuttering smears and sharp accents, then ends with a decisive, Hodges-like flourish, setting the stage for Kasper Tranberg to enter, low and subtle at first on cornet, then lacing short phrases together into a compact and energetic solo.
They close the night by asking the audience to vote on what kind of music they want: waltz, or medium swing. The band members clinch the vote by going for swing, and the group sways their way through the light simmer of Innanen’s ”Baby, If I Were Tuna in Oil, You Could Open My Can.” Innanen puts his baritone on low boil and hushes his way through a West coast cool solo, Tranberg smoothly harmonizes, and behind the rhythm section skips softly and firmly.
But Delirium keeps the edges of their music rough, making anything they do edgy, punchy and even a bit aggressive. During the second set they explore outland territories on Tranberg’s “Anti-Absence”. Westergaard takes a bowed solo, extending the instrument’s percussive range by tapping with the end of his bow. Pasberg matches Westergaard’s musings, finger tapping his ride cymbal and light beating another cymbal placed atop of his floor tom.
Tranberg and Innanen also make wide use of extended techniques. On “Green side Up” Tranberg blows on the bottom of his cornet valves and Innanen plays his alto through a plunger. Innanen harmonizes with himself, a la Kirk, on his own “Driving Through”. Tranberg’s array of mutes help him achieve a broad palette of tones, like on Pasberg’s “Iki” where his bazzwha mute (a kind of three-holed Harmon mute) shoots bawdy notes through the percussive, banging groove established by Westergaard and Pasberg.
Delirium delight in surprise, not shock – an important distinction. With studied grace they sneak up on the listener, then pounce with instinctual force. The question should not be “Are they in the tradition?” but, “What do they show us about the tradition?” Delirium show what is old in the new and what is new in the old.