Abandoning the contemporary classicism of Looking on Darkness
(ECM, 2002), Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli's Passing Images
looks, instead, to traditional Norwegian music for its inspiration. But Haltli, like accordionists Pascal Contet and Guy Klucevsek, stretches the boundaries of his instrument's capabilitiesrarely takes things literally. His unfettered musical aesthetic, and the players that he's chosen to work withtrumpeter Arve Henrkisen, violist Garth Knox and singer Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkjemake this collection of traditional tunes, original music and free improvisation a lesson in the broadest potential of interpretation.
Haltli finds beauty and darkness, strong melody and rich abstractionoften within the same piece. He begins "Psalm" alone, gradually finding his way from impressionist texture to its paradoxically melancholy and optimistic theme. Henriksen, Ratkje and Knox enter subtly at the half-way mark, shakuhachi-like trumpet and voice orbiting around the theme, with Haltli expanding the dynamics until Knox signals the end with a warm return to its haunting melody.
While most pieces explore the dichotomy of less-than-expected contexts for these largely singable melodies, they still manage to remain true to their essence. Knox and Henriksen circle around each other on Haltli's folkloric "The Letter," making it all the more beautiful when they coalesce over Haltli's gentle, ebb-and-flow rhythm. Dissolving into spare atmospherics; Ratkje's soft melody move in and out of a gradually fading etherealness.
The brief "Inter" and "Lude" are free improvisations that provide a jagged sonic contrast to the richer textures around them. Like Sidsel Endresen's One (Sofa, 2006), Ratkje expands the aural potential of her instrument, moving from the gutturally percussive to high frequency squeals. Still, on the majestic closer, "Vals," she meshes with Henriksen, the two truly speaking with a single voice.
The sheer musicality and emotional breadth of Passing Imagesan apt title for its uncannily visual experiencemakes the impressive talents of the quartet almost verboten to mention. Still, it's the elasticity that each member brings to his/her instrument that allows these interpretations such bold expansiveness. Henriksen's ability to acoustically morph the tone of his trumpet has defined his own albums, including Strjon (Rune Grammofin, 2007). No artificial device, instead it's a natural extension that allows him to blend seamlessly, at different times, with different instruments to create a new and unique whole, while Haltli's uncanny capability to bend the notes of his accordion allows for microtonal interactions with Knox on the dramatic "Lyrisk vals," and ventures into upper registers that would seem impossible to reach on Ratkje's title track.
Passing Images may not be an easy listenthere's too much dissonance mixed with harmonious melodism. But its scopic resonance makes for a deeply rewarding experience that continues to reveal more with every listen.