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Nils Petter Molvaer: Khmer

Douglas Payne By

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Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær's solo debut is a technospheric curiosity that suitably brings together the melodic grooves of William Orbit and the evocative ambiance of Mark Isham. Molvær, a new name to me, has actually been around for nearly two decades—as a member of the Scandinavian group Masqualero and in addition to working in both jazz and rock, he's played with singer/poet Sidsel Endresen, drummer Elvin Jones, bassist Gary Peacock and band leader George Russell.

With grunge guitars and industrial dance beats driving much of the music, it's hard to think of Khmer as jazz. But it offers a surprising amount of creative, interesting, and, at times, notable music. That's due mostly to Molvær's earthy sensitivity on trumpet. You hear the air blowing through his horn (especially in the many long tones he takes) and you can feel what he's feeling.

To be sure, this is music that suggests atmospheres more than melodies. However, it seems to be Molvær's gift to riff off moods and feelings and vary it enough to keep it quite absorbing. He's also brilliant in respect of spaces and silences. So does this all suggest Trance or Ambient music? Maybe. But there's more. Khmer offers something of value to open-minded jazz listeners as much as open-eared rock listeners.

The middle-eastern figures suggested in "Khmer" and "Exit" are all the rage now (matching the Angkor Wat cover art that's similar to Orbit's Strange Cargo series and, in this case, from last year's breathtaking Angkor: Millennium of Glory exhibition that toured Washington DC, Paris, Tokyo and Osaka). But Molvær's thoughtful, imprecise interjections on trumpet add a sadness that sounds sincere and heartfelt. "Tlon" (sampling Frankie "O" Generator) and "Platonic Years" (sampling Bill Laswell) are the obligatory dance tracks. But Khmer 's real highlights are "On Stream," a beautiful Pink Floyd (!) like ballad meditation, and "Song of Sand II, " which suggests what might happen if Bill Frisell's Naked City guitar collided with Miles Davis in a techno version of Sketches of Spain.

Club goers might also be interested in the bonus dance remix disc—featuring four of the other disc's songs. Of note here are the darkly funky "Song of Sand II" and a more upbeat "Platonic Years," a variation on Miles's Doo Bop groove. Grunge? Samples? Dance remixes? Yes, Virginia, this is an ECM record! Call it ambient techno jazz, whatever you want. But you can bet Miles Davis and Don Cherry would dig in deep on Khmer, maybe even envy Nils Petter Molvær's music a bit. Listen in.

Track Listing: Khmer; Tlon; Access/Song of Sand I; On Stream; Platonic Years; Phum; Song of Sand II; Exit. Bonus disc: Song of Sand (Single Edit); Platonic Years (DJ Fjord Mix By The Herbaliser); Tlon (Dance Mix by Mental Overdrive); Song of Sand II (Coastal Warning Mix By Rockers Hi-Fi).

Personnel: Nils Petter Molvær: trumpet, guitar, bass guitar, percussion, samples; Eivind Aarset: guitars, treatments, talk box; Morten Molster: guitar; Roger Ludvigsen: guitar, percussion, dulcimer; Rune Arnesen: drums; Ulf W.O. Holand: samples; Reidar Skar: sound treatment.

Title: Khmer | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: ECM Records


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