Jan Bang: Jan Bang: Narrative From The Subtropics

Henning Bolte BY

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Jan Bang: Jan Bang: Narrative From The Subtropics
For Norwegian electronic musician Jan Bang, the studio is no longer a perfectly isolated space to assemble and produce fictitious beautiful sounds—a boundary he has long since transcended. He not only brought studio equipment and techniques to the performing stage but he also started using them as tools in live improvisation. Together with fellow musician and companion Erik Honoré he established the Punkt-praxis of immediate live remix of musical performances by another (group of) musician(s). His approach has increased the liquidity and permeability of sounds, as well as the (in)determinacy and (in)definiteness of musical form. Bang is one of those rare electronic musicians who does not use a laptop onstage, but—without staring at a screen—creates live brilliant new music just with the button-box of an Akai sampler and a simple dictaphone.

Narrative from the Subtropics, with its thirteen miniatures, is the successor of ...and Poppies From Kandahar (2011) and the recent Honoré collaboration, Uncommon Deities (2012), both released on British singer David Sylvian´s Samadhisound label. Among the thirteen tracks—varying from one to five-and-a-half minutes—there are solo, duo, trio, quartet, quintet and sextet pieces, performed by a stellar choice of musicians in various combinations.

Guitarist Eivind Aarset and trumpeter/percussionist/vocalist Arve Henriksen are the most recurrent musicians. Then there is the illustrious company of eminent vocalist Sidsel Endresen, trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, guitarist Stian Westerhus, electronic engineer/musician Honoré, composer Dai Fujikura, pianist Tigran Hamasyan, bassist Lars Danielsson...even Russell Mills/Undark, designer and multidisciplinary artist who has worked for/with the likes of David Sylvian, Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Nine Inch Nails and The Talking Heads.

Bang is a master of assembling and synthesizing harmonic musical wholes from music fragments, plops, bleeps, crackling, creaks, rustle and sough. He sculpts creations of high melodic content that radiate through several layers. The sounds on Narrative seem to well up from the realms of the subconscious, carried by this twilight zone. It's a world of sound that resembles the experience of (fever) dreams and in certain forms of cinema, in which laws of time and space seem to be shifting or are lifted. It's a remote world of sound coming pretty close with its flurries of mild horror, equally brilliant sunrises and glowing utopian flashes.

Bang's music is largely stripped of usual configurations and connotations, built strong, highly expressive and striking through its very own elegance of form. Style patterns and genre formats are cleaned here and flushed out. Everything becomes more liquid, running into new branching connections and deliquescence.

A prominent place is occupied by the sextet of "Singer's Childhood," with two Estonianin musicians: kannel player/vocalist Tuule Kann and guitarist Robert Jürjendal of the Weekend Guitar Trio—three Norwegians (Bang, Henriksen and Westerhus), and the American/Armenian Hamasyan. It is an irresistibly archaic Finno-Ugric rune-song recomposed by Veljo Tormis also included on the well known Estonian composer's Litany To Thunder (ECM, 1999). There is an undeniable Wahlverwandtschaft, an affinity between the ambient nature of this ancient song and Bang's music, and one reason that Tormis and Sega Choir Noorus, also from Estonia, were guests at the 2010 Punkt Festival. Bang used "Singer's Childhood" recently, with surprising results, in the encore of his duo concert with Jason Moran at the 2013 Molde Jazz Festival.

Tuule Kann, who sings the song here, accompanies herself on the kannel, a table zither, an Estonian kantele variant. Beside the brightness of this central piece there are other moods and worlds crossed: fierce, sinister and creepy latitudes alternating with strange and archaic environments underwater regions, and solemn, peaceful balladesque moods.

The album has connections with folk music, as in the case of "Singer's Childhood"; literary links as in "Singer's Ashes," with its beautiful recitation by Nils Christian Moe-Repstad (one of the most prominent Norwegian poets of the moment); and relations to the classical world, where composer Dai Fujikura belongs. Fujikura can be heard in "Melee of Suitcases" and "Flooded Corridors," both co-compositions by Bang and Fujikura. Bang met the Pierre Boulez protégé during their work for David Sylvian's Died in the Wool: Manafon Variations (Samadhisound, 2011).

Different from the predecessor Uncommon Deities, there is no thematic thread here. The pieces are separate stories, each with their own peculiarities. The titles mostly open strong fields of associations and seem to be chosen for that purpose. There is "Tide," also a vocal piece, with its shofar-like sounds at the beginning, its mystical quality and remarkably prolonged final chord. In Endresen's masterful performance, her way of withholding the melody causes powerful effects and a deep touch. "Deep Serene," a duet by Bang and Aarset, is of exceptional. memorable beauty. The title "Sinking Ship" steers expectations and perception strongly. Gavin Bryars' The Sinking of the Titanic is not so far away. "Lifeboat," a solo by Bang, has, indeed, an insular feel; it seems as though Harold Budd was watching when this piece took shape. Plenty in which to be caught up, and to be absorbed by, there are narratives, yes, but the link to the subtropics has yet to be revealed.

Elements of various musical styles and genres, as well as classical phrases, can be traced in Bang's music. The essence is that these traces in their sound arise from the fog of the past, from the subconscious and fade as remote voices, voices from a distant past (there is a certain resemblance to the approach of Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov). No imitation, no quote, no mix but a matter of deeper connecting. To avoid turning into ghost-music, the way of transporting, and the quality of the ether, are essential. Both are of impressive character and exceptional quality in Bang's most assuredly highly promising music.

Track Listing

Iron Balcony; Singer ́s Ashes; Tide; Smashing Windows; The Deep Serene; Singer ́s Childhood; Funeral Voyage; Interlude (Night Creatures); Melee of Suitcases; Artificial Reeves; Sinking Ship; Flooded Corridors; Lifeboat.


Jan Bang: Akai sampler (1-13), programming (1-7, 9-13), synthesizer (3, 5), mpc (7), dictaphone (7), kaoss pad (10); Nils Chr. Moe Repstad: voice; Eivind Aarset: sampled guitar (2), guitars (3, 5, 7), bass (7); Sidsel Endresen: vocal (3, 9); Lars Danielsson: double bass (3); Undark: organ (3); Erik Honoré: field crickets (3), synthesizer (7); Arve Henriksen: sampled trumpet (4), trumpet (6, 8, 11); Tuule Kann: vocal (6), kannel (6); Tigran Hamasyan: piano (6); Robert Jürjendal: guitars (6); Stian Westerhus: sampled guitar (6), guitar (8); Nils Petter Molvæe: trumpet (7); Dai Fujikara: piano (9), electronics (9), cello samples (12); David Soler: sampled guitar (11).

Album information

Title: Jan Bang: Narrative From The Subtropics | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Jazzland Recordings

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