Norwegian composer/bandleader Geir Lysne's surname must be pronounced "listen, hence the name Listening Ensemble. The play on words is quite appropriate, as Lysne's music can't be appraised or appreciated unless one listens closely and carefully, perhaps several times.
The first of these two albums, taped at JazzFest Berlin in November 2001, consists of a brief introduction followed by Lysne's four-moment Aurora Borealis Suite; the second, Korall ("Chorale"), is a studio date recorded later that same week.
Geir Lysne Listening Ensemble
Live at JazzFest Berlin
The introduction to the Suite is actually a poem by Jakob Sande set to music and read by trumpeter Ole Jørn Myklebust, which sets the scene for what is to followevocative sound portraits of the "northern lights using every aspect of the orchestra to underscore their sometimes beautiful and often stormy character. The soloistsprincipally trombonist Christian Jaksjø (Part 1), tenor saxophonist Andi Maile (Part 2), alto Morten Halle and flugel Eckhard Baur (Part 3), guitarist Hallgrim Bratberg (Part 4)aren't simply blowing notes but enhancing the mood, whether that mood be dark and menacing, bright and friendly or anything in between. Lysne isn't averse to using all manner of surreal sound effects to make a point, as is most evident on Part 3. As he says, "For me the big band is not a style, it's just an instrumentation with unique possibilities for coloring sounds in a Jazz format. Whatever, it must have kept the audience in Berlin on its toes.
This music isn't for everyone, and one wouldn't be amiss to say that it is an acquired taste. Lysne often skirts the periphery of jazz, but when he brings his supernal themes back to earth they can and do swing. While I can't honestly say I was turned on by the Aurora Borealis Suite, I can recognize the vision that went into it and understand why others may be more favorably impressed. The Berliners loved it, a conclusion borne out by a two-minute ovation.
Geir Lysne Listening Ensemble
The studio session, Korall, is, to say it plainly, more accessible, which is not to imply that it is less ambitious than Borealis, only different. There's more here that is recognizably jazz, especially rhythmically, and less of an "outer space ambiance encircling the enterprise. Three of the pieces"M.B., "Djambo, and especially most of "P.T. 1 could even be described as high-spirited, while the dreamy "Korall boasts a charming melody embellished by something that sounds like a human voice but probably isn't. "M.B. prances percussively from the gate before a male chorus helps set its groovy course, while "Djambo summons visions of Africa with its insistent cadences and exotic melodies accentuated by drums and percussion.
Again, the soloists aren't there to seek notice but to reinforce the motif. They include trumpeters Myklebust ("Theme for O.J. ) and Marius Haltli ("M.B. ), alto Klaus Graf and trombonist Helge Sunde ("Djambo ), baritone Bernhard Seland, trombonist Jørgen Gjerde and drummer Knut Aalefjær ("P.T. 1 ), alto Halle, tenor Maile, trumpeter Baur and trombonist Jaksjø ("Korall ). Guest vocalist Sondre Bratland (that's a man) is featured on the elegiac Norgwegian folk hymn "Ingen vinner frem til den evige ro.
As noted, Lysne's music isn't for everyone, and a reasonable course of action for any listener would be to place a toe or two gingerly in the water before diving in headlong.
Tracks: Aurora Borealis Suite (Intro / Part I / Part II / Part III / Part IV). (47:45).
Personnel: Morten Halle, alto, soprano sax; Klaus Graf, alto sax; Andi Maile, Fredrik O. Jensen, tenor sax; Bernhard Seland, baritone sax; Helge Sunde, Christian Jaksjø, Jørgen Gjerde, trombone; Ketil Hovland, bass trombone; Jørn Øjen, keyboards; Hallgrim Bratberg, guitar; Jan Olav Renvåg, acoustic, electric bass, tuba; Knut Aalefjær, Kenneth Ekornes, drums, percussion.
Tracks: M.B.; Djambo; Theme for O.J.; Ingen vinner frem til den evige ro; P.T. 1; Korall (56:55).
Personnel: Same. Add Sondre Bratland, vocal, on "Ingen vinner frem til den evige ro.