Nils Petter Molvaer: Baboon Moon (2011)
While Nils Petter Molvær's last releasethe first after breaking up his band of ten yearsdemonstrated plenty of change for the Norwegian trumpeter, he still relied on two of that group's most significant players: live sampler Jan Bang and, most importantly, guitarist Eivind Aarset, who contributed to eight of its ten tracks. Still, Hamada (Sula, 2009) began to move away from the programmed beats of er (Sula, 2005), towards a harder-edged sounddriven, in no small part, by drummer Audun Kleive's thundering work on one of the album's strongest and most decidedly different tracks, "Cruel Altitude."
The explosive combination of drummer Erland Dahlen, who replaced Kleive after subbing at Molvær's Molde Jazz 2010 showdetonating one heckuva nuclear device beneath the trioand guitarist Stian Westerus, who joined after Aarset's tinnitus forced him to leave the group, has given Molvær's music an even greater facelift. If Hamada was transitional, Baboon Moon completes the change; an album of paradoxes and, quite simply, the most important record Molvær has released since changing the musical landscape on the groundbreaking Khmer (ECM, 1997).
Westerhus, whose Pitch Black Star Spangled (Rune Grammofon, 2010) was as important a debut as Aarset's Electronique Noir (Jazzland) was when it was released 12 years earlier, also assumes the role of producer (a significant endorsement from Molvær), bringing a completely different aesthetic to sonic layeringhis heavily effected guitars creating massive walls of sound as opposed to Aarset's aural clouds.
The difference is immediate, an unexpected low-register sonic grabbing instant attention on the opening "Mercury Heart," before a pulsating, three-chord pattern creates a simple context for Molvær's unfailing melodism. Even when the alternating bars of 3/4 and 4/4 kick into higher gear with Dahlen's thundering kit, Molvær's increasingly processed trumpet remains a focal point of captivating lyricism. A softer middle passage focuses on Dahlen's percussive orchestration, which ultimately includes everything from log drums and gongs to steel drums and, over Westerhus' tremolo-driven but still unearthly guitar, a singing saw. This may be a trio capable of great extremes, but it's equally capable of subtle beauty, with Westerhus' intimate command of what he lists as "too many pedals" creating an ever-shifting network of dissonant and consonant textures. Even when he resorts to a crunching baritone guitar riff on the hard-driving "Recoil," it's peppered with the kind of unexpected sonic colors that, in their rapid-fire delivery, can only be seen to be believed.
Beyond the obvious touchstones of trumpet, guitar and drums, there's so much unidentifiable sound here that it's nearly impossible to know who is doing what. Molvær's singing into his trumpet microphone is hard to discern, so processed and, at times, looped is it that it bears little resemblance to the human voice. But that's part of the magic of Baboon Moon, an album that challenges every preconception of sound as Molvær delivers yet another career-defining album of improv-heavy, at times hardcore at other times obliquely beautiful music that may stem from many sources, but ultimately exists in a space all its own.
[Note: Baboon Music is released September 16 in Europe, with North American release, courtesy of Thirsty Ear Recordings, to follow on November 1.]
Track Listing: Mercury Heart; A Small Realm; Recoil; Bloodline; Sleep With Echoes; Blue Fandango; Prince of Calm; Coded; Baboon Moon.
Personnel: Nils Petter Molvær: electric and acoustic trumpet, voices, loops, bass synth; Stian Westerhus: electric and acoustic guitars, baritone guitars, analogue synth, hand percussion, takezither, Studer A80, Atari MX50508, harmonium, Roland RE-201, Hiwatt tape echo, vocals, prepared upright piano, Bedwin pianoframe, too many pedals; Erland Dahlen: drums, log drum, steel drum, metal percussion, singing saw vocal, harmonium, bells, candybox shaker; Susanne Sundler: vocals (9).