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Jo Berger Myhre & Ólafur Björn Ólafsson: Lanzarote

Gareth Thompson By

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A testament to water and fire, Lanzarote is the fourth largest island in the Canary archipelago. In the 1960s, tourism was encouraged there at all costs, elements of which survive in Brit-pubs and karaoke bars on the waterfront at Puerto del Carmen. But the island's moon-like terrain has more recently lured visitors seeking yoga and yurts, hammocks and health foods. They say it makes a great place to reflect on the world's natural wonders.

Norwegian bassist/pianist Jo Berger Myhre and Icelandic drummer Ólafur Björn Ólafsson had both played shows on Lanzarote at different times. After the release of their album The Third Script (Hubro, 2017) they exchanged views about the island with its volcanoes, black mountains, vineyards and caves. Out of that came this questing new work formed of ghostly electronica, nocturnal brass and feral percussion. The trumpeter Eirikur Orri Olafsson also joins in, alongside Ingi Garðar Garðarsson on trombone and tuba. The quartet sound indebted in part to Karlheinz Stockhausen, or maybe the George Russell Sextet's Electronic Sonata For Souls Loved By Nature (Flying Dutchman, 1971). But mostly they feel linked to the current wave of jazz-inspired Nordic artists, from Arve Henriksen to Espen Eriksen.

Ólafur Ólafsson once played an event in a Lanzarote cave with Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannson, who died in 2018, and to whom this album's opening cut "Grain Of Sand" is dedicated. Fittingly subdued and muffled piano notes offer beautiful motifs, over raking bass strings and piercingly pure synths. The piece reminds us how private memories can make music of great universal depth.

"Atomised/All We've Got" has a literary link to Lanzarote via the French writer Michel Houllebecq, whose odd writings on the place mixed sociopathy and titillation. A lengthy track, it brings in musique concrète, atonal trumpet, spiritual keyboards and near-frantic percussion. Nor is it the only number where the musicians seem to be in separate rooms playing 'guess the tune, guess the tempo.' Yet the end result is a seamless poetry of sound.

Brass and bass ponder quietly from soulful depths on "Both Worlds," then the rough-hewn electronica of "Mimophant" feels as tactile as Lanzarote's rocky paradise. Ólafsson's grinding drumming here is like the steady pummel of waves on a cliff.

Myhre's jagged bow strokes on "Current" are spiked with pulsings like tiny explosions, whilst "Conjure Up The Past" evokes sea-deep drones. For sure this is meditative music, but in a sense of the mind unscrambling itself to gain hard insight. The album is no easy chillout zone, with its long periods of disquiet amid the dreamy. And yet the record's prayerful crux comes full circle on "Grain Of Sand (Reprise)" with a glass-blown warble like some echo of existence dying out.

Houllebecq wrote of Lanzarote, "The silence was absolute. This, I thought, is what the world will look like when it dies." On this reflective album, Myhre and Ólafsson suggest that life and landscape both mark us in very personal ways.

Track Listing: Grain Of Sand; Atomised/All We’ve Got; Both Worlds; Mimophant; Current; Conjure Up The Past; Grain Of Sand (Reprise).

Personnel: Jo Berger Myhre: double bass, electronics, Simmons SDS8, Prophet 6; Ólafur Björn Ólafsson: upright piano, Farfisa organ, Moog, drums & percussion; Eiríkur Orri Ólafsson: trumpet; Ingi Garðar Garðarsson: trombone, tuba.

Title: Lanzarote | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Hubro Music

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