Ergo: Multitude, Solitude (2009)
As jazz leans away from characteristics that so defined its earliest days, groups are emerging with unorthodox instrumental combinations, fleshed out by the vast potential of technological soundscaping. Ergo, at its core, seems as unconventional as they gettrombone, keyboards, drumscreating music that wouldn't have been possible before relatively recent innovations in sound processing and sampling/looping. Its 2005 indie debut, Quality Anatomechanical Music Since 2005, received significant critical acclaim, making its follow-up on the better-distributed Cuneiform label a sure bet for similar attention. For fans of the improvised, electronics-centric music heralded by the Norwegian musicians in the extended Punkt family, Multitude, Solitude is a seamlessly organic album of quietude that commands attention from its very first moments.
The group dates back to 2003, when trombonist Brett Srokawhose Hearsay (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2002) was a far more conventional outingformed Ergo to formalize time spent, since the beginning of the decade, listening to and experimenting with electronic music. Drummer Shawn Baltazor is the relative newcomer to the trio, but on Multitude, Solitude Sroka continues his working relationship with keyboardist Carl Maguire, whose Floriculture group has released two fine discs including Sided Silver Solid (2009)released on Taylor Ho Bynum's Firehouse 12 label and bearing no small affiliation to the trumpeter's musical space, an outgrowth of reedman Anthony Braxton's decades-long experimentation.
But the music of Ergo bears little, if any, relationship to any of the above. This is music that evolves slowly, almost imperceptibly; yet for all its freedom, there's no shortage of structure. Closer in ambience to classical chamber music, the album's two longest pieces are particularly compelling. "Endlessly (multitude, solitude)," with its layers of trombonein Sroka's hands, truly a vocal instrumentpossesses the same paradoxical stasis-meets-forward-motion of Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim's outstanding Sangam (ECM, 2005). Laconic, serpentine trombone lines unfold, supported by Maguire's chime-like Fender Rhodes, Baltazor largely providing more color than pulse.
The episodic "Vessel" is another story entirely. Spare trombone lines lead to low, in-the-gut electronics and more turbulent passages, where Maguire's oblique Rhodes lines and Baltazor's tumultuous playing build to a mini-climax, only to dissolve and build againeven more graduallyto a second peak, pushed forward by a persistent, minimalist piano pulse that shapes an entirely different context for Sroka's singable theme.
Shorter pieces like "She Haunts Me" rely on processing to allow Sroka to build up layers of trombone. Some are clearly overdubbed, but Sroka truly blurs the line between what's possible in the studio and what can be done in a live context. Hints of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley imbue Sroka's writing, but never come to the forefront.
And there's no doubt that Ergo is both a performing and improvising group. Like Norwegian artists like Arve Henriksen, however, Sroka takes a different approach to composition, one where improvisation and structure work hand-in-hand, each feeding the other. Multitude, Solitude's 50 tranquil minutes ebb and flow with stunning realism in a landscape of otherworldly textures.
Track Listing: Rana Sylvatica; Vessel; She Haunts Me; Little Shadow; Endlessly (multitude, solitude); Actuator.
Personnel: Brett Sroka: trombone, computer; Carl Maguire: Rhodes electric piano, Prophet synthesizer, electronic effects; Shawn Baltazor: drums.