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Humcrush with Sidsel Endresen: Ha!

John Kelman By

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That so many artists can place themselves in a position of ultimate risk on a concert stage, attempting to create something from nothing, speaks of a certain intrepid spirit. That some of those same artists not only succeed at pulling form from the ether, but actually do so night after night, with a distinct and recognizable voice, speaks of something even more special. Not every night is equally successful, however, and between cell phones and YouTube, artists have lost control over deciding what is worthy of permanent documentation. Of course, what constitutes worthy by the artists and their fans may be two very different things; but at the end of the day, artists always deserve the right to determine how their music gets out into the world.

Humcrush—the now seven year-old collaboration of keyboardist Ståle Storløkken (Supersilent, Elephant9) and percussionist Thomas Stronen (Food, Meadow) has been collaborating with singer Sidsel Endresen for a couple years now, delivering a particularly strong set at the 2011 Oslo Jazz Festival. But it was their 2010 show at Switzerland's WIllisau Jazz Festival that provided the perfect grist for Ha!, where a largely continuous performance has been broken out, in post-production, into nine discrete pieces—each with their own shape but collectively creating a narrative different than what went down, yet standing as a better permanent document of this fearless improvising trio.

Endresen's unique form of improvising—based on small vocal cells honed to perfection and subsumed into a larger vernacular that combines melody, distinctly unvocal-like extended techniques and a spoken language that would likely blow up Babel Fish, yet functions with its own logic and cadence—has been advancing in leaps and bounds recently, both alone and in duo with enemy-of-orthodoxy guitarist Stian Westerhus and symphonic solo saxophonist Hakon Kornstad. But with Humcrush, she gets the chance to explore music of a more decidedly rhythmic nature, though the pulses Strønen and Storløkken create are as likely to be staggered and jittery as they are settled in any kind of continuous groove.

Between Storløkken's remarkable control—his tones as spontaneous as the notes played—and Strønen's frightening ability to sample his own kit, reprocess it and feed it back into the mix at the speed of light, Endresen is working in a significantly different context, one as rooted in Oliver Messiaen and György Ligeti as anything else. What's most impressive about these nine constructed tracks, ranging from just under two minutes to a gradually unfolding nine, is how these three players respond to each other with nanosecond precision, whether it's Endresen reacting to a single drum hit that Strønen samples and returns as a rapidly increasing echo, or the singer's oblique melody driving Storløkken's haunting dissonance which, in turn, inspires Endresen to follow as if it were planned all along.

While not exactly for the faint-at-heart, Ha! remains an absolutely inspired and inspiring set for those capable of leaving convention behind, forgetting about what Humcrush isn't, and celebrating what it is: improvised music with a paradoxical combination of reckless abandon and an unmistakable and underlying sense of purpose.

Track Listing: Ha! 1; Ha! 2; Ha! 3; Ha! 4; Ha! 5; Ha! 6; Ha! 7; Ha! 8; Ha! 9.

Personnel: Ståle Storløkken: keyboards; Thomas Strønen: drums, electronics; Sidsel Endresen: voice.

Title: Ha! | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Rune Grammofon


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