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Huntsville: Pond

John Eyles By

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Since the Norwegian trio Huntsville first came together in 2006, they have been eclectic enough to keep listeners guessing what to expect next and who they might collaborate with, making each of their album releases an intriguing and exciting event. After their debut album For The Middle Class (Rune Grammofon, 2006) featured the three core players—guitarist Ivar Grydeland, percussionist Ingar Zach and bassist Tonny Kluften—alone together, its follow-up, the double CD Eco, Arches & Eras (Rune Grammofon, 2008 ), featured renowned Norwegian vocalist Sidsel Endresen on one track and, on the extended piece "Eras," guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Glenn Kotche of Wilco fame.

After switching labels, the trio's first album was the rockier For Flowers, Cars and Merry Wars (Hubro, 2011) on which the only guest was another Norwegian vocalist Hanne Hukkelberg, on its title track. During this period, Huntsville also played a concert in Spain with Thurston Moore. Their last album Past Increasing, Future Receding (Hubro, 2013) only featured the three core members, but it was different again, having been recorded in Oslo's highly resonant Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum which gave that space the role of a fourth member.

Huntsville's eclecticism is evident from the diverse list of musicians with whom they have attracted comparisons, including John Cage, Can, Miles Davis, Ennio Morricone, The Necks, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Sonic Youth, Sunn O))), Tortoise, The Velvet Underground, LaMonte Young... While that list gives a flavour of the breadth of Huntsville's vision, it is not an accurate reflection of their music but operates more like a word cloud to give a sense of the zone(s) we are in here. Just as confusingly, the (notoriously eccentric) iTunes "genre" label for Pond is "classical" whereas for their last two albums it was "jazz"—definitely labels at their most unhelpful!

In actuality, Pond is as unlike past Huntsville albums as expected. While the members are improvisers, the music is not improv per se, being rather more beyond categorisation (a good thing, in my view...) The album consists of four extended studio-recorded tracks, all in the range from ten to sixteen minutes. The opener, "(ER)" (the track titles are all similarly impervious to interpretation), prominently features a new addition to the trio's instrumentation, Grydeland's use of pedal steel guitar, ringing out alongside a shuffle rhythm from Zach's brushes underpinned by Kluften's solid bass. The guitarist deftly avoids the clichés of pedal steel, exploiting its ability to bend notes to enliven a soundscape that could have been too static otherwise; when the track settles into an extended drone for its last few minutes, it works effectively but prior to that it needed that pedal steel.

Next up, in comparison to "(EG)," "(ING)" begins ear-strainingly quietly and takes over two minutes to achieve a volume at which it becomes listenable. After that, it is well worth the wait as all three players produce music full of variety and interest, the kind that sounds better the more one listens. Grydeland plays electric guitar, producing sustained notes and chords that are allowed to linger as they fade away; the percussion and bass do not act as accompaniment, but contain sufficient variety and detail to attract attention in their own right. On "(AGE)," Huntsville combine repetition and development in a way which makes comparisons with The Necks understandable; with guitar to the fore, the piece has a beauty that owes nothing to anyone but Huntsville themselves. This music certainly is not classical, rock, jazz or improv but something else, something more varied and richer. Why label it when the only accurate description that fits is "Huntsville"? Yes, that is recommendation enough.

Track Listing: (ER); (Ing); (Age); (OK)

Personnel: Ivar Grydeland: electric guitar, pedal steel, electronics; Ingar Zach: percussion, timpani; Tonny Kluften: bass.

Title: Pond | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Hubro Records

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