The Norwegian trio Huntsville is comprised of three of the most challenging and adventurous musicians in a country where the musical climate is usually quite daring. Guitarist and banjo player Ivar Grydeland, percussionist Ingar Zach and bassist Tonny Kluften, all doubling on "various instruments," are the core members of the free-improv ensemble No Spaghetti Edition, founders of the Norwegian label Sofa Music, and frequent collaborators in many outfits, including the Hiss quartet, augmented by British keyboardist Pat Thomas (Zahair, Rossbin, 2003).
For The Middle Classes is the ironic title for the trio's first attempt to outline alternative yet highly communicative instrumental drone-based music. The four tracks, all recorded in various places in Oslo during 2005 and 2006, and released by another challenging label, Rune Grammofon, suggest almost groove-based improvised textures. All rely on locomotive-like drumming and percussion that ironically sounds as if it's quoting the Pat Metheny Group in its most cinematic moments.
These textures draw references from a broad spectrum of sources: country music, ceremonial Japanese music, South Indian music, electronic manipulation and sampling techniques, and even John Cage. Each musician has developed such an idiosyncratic language and an almost telepathic interaction with each other that the musical outcome blurs any conventional concept of listening, yet the music sounds very natural and organic and surprisingly quite harmonic.
The opening track, "The Apperance of a Wise Child," is based on futuristic, repetitive tribal sounds, sometimes interrupted by Grydeland, who rubs and caresses the strings of the guitar and outlines an ethereal melody, and more sound sources, such as bells, distant voice and a walking bass. The shorter "Serious Like a Pope" begins with a hesitant and delicate duet between the atmospheric slide guitar of Grydeland and the pizzicato bass strumming of Kluften, serving as an introduction to the overcoming electronics-based drone.
The epic "Add a Key to Humanity" gains momentum throughout its 22-minute course, and the musicians throw into the looped locomotive mix the sounds of a distant, distorted guitar, twisted banjo plucking and dense bass rhythmic lines, until it all crystallizes into a new blend. The concluding track, the gentle "Melon," revolves around the ambient acoustic guitar ruminations of Grydeand and some inventive quiet drone.
For The Middle Classes is the most accessible recording from these creative musicianssurprising, sometimes funny, sometimes irritating, always offering tons of provocative revelations, and very convincing. One of my top ten releases of 2006.
Personnel: Iver Grydeland: acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, pedal steel guitar, radio, electronics, organ and voice; Tony Kluften: bass, rhythm machine and glockenspiel; Ingar Zach: percussion, tabla machine, sarangi box and shruti box.