Frode Haltli does not play accordion, but rather makes music with an instrument that we call an accordion. Using carefully chosen musicians, Haltli has created, with Passing Images
, a highly intense, very concentrated work that is both disconcerting and beautifulsomething to be slowly savored and pondered.
Its fifty-one minutes are full of surprises and shocks. There is little overt musical movement and yet, despite much silence, the listener is pulled ever forward. The overall volume is low and total attention is required, but it will be rewarded with an ever-changing kaleidoscope of seeming impossible sounds from the group.
As ECM approaches the forty year mark, the relationships between its coterie of musicians is almost as much a part of the experience as the music itself. Halti has a duo project with Trygve Seim, trumpeter Arve Henriksen has performed on recordings by Seim, Christian Wallumrod and Jon Balke, vocalist and composer Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje worked with and contributed to Haltli's previous ECM recording, Looking On Darkness
(ECM, 2002), while violist Garth Knox has been active on the classical side of ECM.
The flexibility and sensitivity of these musicians is crucial to Haltli's musical vision, which sits at the nexus of Scandinavian folk music, improvisation and classical composition and gestures. Full of silence, tension and drama, the music of Passing Images
also has much overt beauty.
Each musician gets a myriad of sounds from his or her instrument. Haltli uses the full range of the accordion, plays clusters and intertwining lines, pure accompaniment and even somehow bends notes. Henriksen's trumpet rarely sounds as expected, having no brassy edge and bringing in flute-like sonorities, plus non-musical sounds such as sucking and tapping. Kjelstrup Ratke mostly vocalizes without words, becoming another instrument in the mix, but also makes vocal sounds, while Knox's playing runs the gamut from pure melody with varying amounts of vibrato, to harmonics, quarter tones and other sounds.
As each piece progresses, the grouping and range of the instruments constantly changes as the arrangements create a whole universe of sounds. Thus, the music is continually mutating, providing a means for the listener to be carried forward, substituting in a way for the lack of a strong pulse.
If there is a core to the album, it is the tracks "Pre," "Lyrisk vals" and "Passing Images." Haltli writes that they are basically from the same source, a recording by fiddler Gustav Katerud (1882-1941). The first two pieces are based on a tune he played, while the third, by Kjelstrup Ratke (arranged by Haltli) is influenced by the second.
The music is disconcerting because it is so dissonant, intense and highly emotional, while flashes of overt beauty that appear unexpectedly. The listener is kept constantly off balance, with little to hang on to while the music, made of the most gossamer of materials, steadily accumulates its impact. Passing Images
is fabulous and unforgettable.