Musicimprovised or scoredis inextricably linked with how it's arranged or orchestrated, a point made crystal clear by Lars Danielsson's Mélange Bleu. The bonus track on the Swedish bassist/cellist/ pianist's Libera Me (ACT, 2004) hinted at the direction Danielsson would take on Mélange Bluea blending of acoustic instruments, concert orchestra and technology to create a lush new mix (or Mélange) that retains Danielsson's innate lyricism, but places it in the sonic realm of Nu Jazz.
With some of the most intrepid aural explorers on the Norwegian scene, Danielsson finds his own nexus point among sumptuous grooves, temporal elasticity, dense soundscapes and sparser ambience. Improvisation is an integral part of the mix, but it's as much about the extemporaneous development of texture as it is more conventional melodic, harmonic and rhythmic interaction (though there's plenty of that to be found as well).
The propulsive beat of "Bacchanalia" seems custom-built for the dance floor, though Danielsson's layered bass and cello create a more complex mix that approaches an edgier aesthetic. "Ironside" has an equally relentless pulse, but if one pares it away, the intro could easily be interpreted as a gentle ballad or purely ambient piece save for the greater forward motion Danielsson's piano solo ultimately provides.
Eivind Aarset contributes the kind of anti-guitar textures for which he's become renowned. Jan Bang's samples are always compelling, but it's his live samplingwhere music played in real time is sampled, then processed and fed back to inspire new ideasthat so distinctly defines his musical identity. Bang and turntablist Paal "Strangefruit" Nyhus have demonstrated, for a number of years, that technology is absolutely capable of being used in a real time, improvisational context. What elevates the concept even further is the inclusion of drummer/percussionist Jon Christensen, whose unique approach to time provides the ambient title track with a pulse, albeit one that's not necessarily easy to define clearly.
"Judas Bolero," the twenty-minute centerpiece of Mélange Bleu, begins with a spare trio of Danielsson, trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer and Christensen, sonically expanded through Bang's live sampling. The piece gradually evolves, with pianist Bugge Wesseltoft adding greater harmonic depth, but it's Danielsson's scoring for the Copenhagen Concert Orchestra (also performing on three other tracks) that takes what is, in fact, a lengthy improvisation and gives it remarkable form. The concept of writing parts around an improv isn't new, but few have done it as well as Danielsson does here.
More consistently successful than Libera Me, Mélange Bleu works because, while Danielsson understands the jazz tradition (made clear on the elegant "Naive"), it's only one part of the greater continuum in which he and his band mates are working. Extended vamps are equal grist as changes-based writing for collective interaction, but it's Danielsson's rare combination of harmonic, melodic, rhythmic and textural form and freedom that makes Mélange Bleu such a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Track Listing: Mélange Bleu; Makro; Les Coulisses; Ironside; Judas Bolero; Minor People; Sketches of Twelve; Naive; Bacchanalia; After Zero.
Personnel: Lars Danielsson: cello, acoustic bass, Fender electric bass, piano (1, 4, 6, 10); Fender Rhodes (9); Bugge Wesseltoft: piano (3, 5-8), piano solo (6); Nils Petter Molvaer: trumpet (2, 5, 9); Eivind Aarset: guitar; Jon Christensen: drums and percussion (1, 3-9); Anders Engen: drums (4, 7, 10); Jan Bang: samples, live sampling; Paal "Strangefruit" Nyhus: vinyl channeling; Vytas Basanov: beats and samples (2); Mario Basanov: beats and samples (2); Caecilie Norby: voices (4); Gustaf Ljunggren: steel guitar (1, 8); synthesizer (4); Xavier Desandre Navarre: percussion (4, 9); Copenhagen Concert Orchestra, directed by Henrik Vagn Christensen (2-5).