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Nils Berg Cinemascope: Popmotion

James Pearse By

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There are concept albums and then there is concept music. While progressive rock and pop artists habitually follow a specific theme or develop a story over the course of an album, some musicians offer entirely new models of composition. Popmotion, the debut album by Swedish trio Nils Berg Cinemascope, falls unquestionably into the latter category.

The eight tracks on Popmotion were written and performed around video clips of musicians from Brunei, Ghana, Japan, Sweden and United States, which the band members discovered on YouTube and Vimeo. Links to the original videos can be found on the band's website for a full audio-visual experience.

As multi-instrumentalist Berg explains in the liner notes, there is a new quartet for each song, with the core trio plus the star of the found videos as the fourth, temporary member of the group. These include a "hibernated hippie on sitar," "giggling teenagers from Brunei," "a balafon master from Ghana" and "a shy Japanese lady and her flute." On the recording, the trio plays along in front of a screen, which shows the videos of the "far-away guests, who are seen, heard and incorporated into the live music."

The result is as spellbinding as it is unconventional. On tracks such as "Accra Underground," featuring music performed on a bowed dulcimer, and "Benibanatsumiuta" (Japanese folk played on a bamboo flute), Berg's clarinet and saxophone snake mischievously in and out of Josef Kallerdahl's infectious bass work and Christopher Cantillo's solid percussion, which in turn drive the music long nicely and offer buoy of safety in the expensive sea of sounds that makes up Popmotion.

In addition to the spectrum of genres and influences present, there is a catchy, lo-fi pop thread to Popmotion; even the cover comes as a foldable movie poster designed and hand-produced by artist Sanna Haverinen. Gothenburg-born Berg has collaborated with Swedish pop acts like Peter Bjorn, and John and Mando Diao, as well as jazz musicians such as Goran Kajfes.

The innovation of Nils Berg Cinemascope is found not solely in the use of social media and Video-sharing networks for inspiration; it is in the plasticity and fluidity of the three jazz musicians that make up the trio. As the musicians were not involved in the writing of the original pieces of music, they are presented with the challenge of exploring the music and finding space in which to stretch out and add extra color to the music they have chosen to accompany. The trio has skilfully incorporated the work of strangers into their sound rather than forcing themselves onto the work of others by simply pasting jazz tones onto existing pieces of music, and Popmotion is all the better for it.

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