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Pierette Ensemble: Akrostik

Ian Patterson By

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Strings, reeds, piano and percussion are the flesh and bones of this Danish-English sextet, co-led by saxophonist/flautist Julie Kjer and pianist Signe Bisgaard. The instrumentation, however, is secondary to the intent, for had the sextet assembled with objet trouvé instead, the results would likely have been equally arresting. The Pierette Ensemble's debut recording may stem from the nooks and crannies of avant-garde classical and experimental jazz but the music's emotional impact overrides stylistic considerations. Brooding and melodic, pulsating and arrhythmic in turn, these eight pieces combine like a series of poems inspired by landscapes both real and imagined.

There's a tense, Hitchcockian momentum to "Pudding Mill Lane"; Alison Blunt's pizzicato violin instills an urgent pulse while Lisbeth Dier's wood block, mallet and intermittent cymbals provide dramatic accents throughout Kjer's somber flute melody. Pernille Bevort's bass clarinet and Bisgaard's bass piano form a deeper, underlying motif. Cellist Hannah Marshall's solo soars in the high registers, with plunging bass-profondo riffs penetrating like stabbing daggers. The tension dissipates in a series of overlapping, descending ensemble lines, but just when you think it's safe to peek out from under the covers staccato strings and clarinet, a Hammer House of Horrors piano motif and restless percussion reignite in one final rush of blood.

The title track is more somber, with the rhymic frame provided by a piano motif of funeral tempo and Dier's brushes. Tenor saxophone, cello and violin ply long, pensive phrases, gently passing the lead among themselves. Piano and drums then sit out as reeds and strings unite in a slowly snaking, bitter-sweet melody. The remaining six tunes alternate between three freely improvised vignettes and three longer through-composed pieces.

The improvised numbers present an arresting triptych. "Impro 1" is the most abstract, with subtle kalimba underpinning ghostly reed and high-pitched, distant strings. Dier's spacious bass drum adds to the prevailing sense of unease. "Impro II" is a fragmented series of plosive exclamations, scratches and squeaks, and in the context, quite dramatic drum and cymbal interjections. "Impro III" stems from Bevort's unaccompanied tenor musings. The warmth of her introduction contrasts with the austere ensemble sound that ensues, invading like the first frost and chill winds of winter.

The brooding "Piek 12" alternates between ensemble passages where flute, violin, bass clarinet, cello and piano weave in and out of unison, and sparser terrain where piano and bass clarinet, then flute and cello dovetail gently. A martial drum pattern imposes itself, as a recurring motif builds in intensity. The episodic "Det Tredje Landskab" travels from minimalist intro through a tense mid-section where violin cries evoke a tortured Chinese erhu; as rhythm emerges, a dynamic passage of collective free-form evolves—led by Kjer on alto saxophone— which peters out gradually like storm clouds spent. "Stempel"'s nervy improvised energy gathers focus when alto, tenor and violin find common voice. Bevort's tenor captivates briefly, but it's a brief interlude in the tightly-knit sextet voice.

A compelling debut, Akrostik balances free-thinking experiment with carefully negotiated form. The fluctuating rhythms, striking melodies and dense harmonics create a unique soundscape that should appeal to all those who seek adventure in music.

Track Listing: Pudding Mill Lane; Akrostik; Impro 1; Piek 12; Impro II; Det Tredje Landskab; Impro III; Stempel.

Personnel: Alison Blunt: violin; Hannah Marshall: cello; Pernille Bevort: tenor saxophone and bass clarinet; Julie Kjer: alto saxophone, flute, bass flute; Signe Bisgaard: piano; Lisbeth Dier: percussion; Jon Anderson: additional cello (2, 6).

Title: Akrostik | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Gateway Music

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