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One of the best releases of improvised music of 2012 was by Norwegian duo of innovative vocal artist Sidsel Endresen and guitarist Stian Westerhus, Didymoi Dreams (Rune Grammofon). Now another Norwegian duo of like-minded, genre-blind guitarist Petter Vågan and vocalist Hanna Gjermundrød present their own personal variation on one of the common formats in popular music.
This duo released their debut more than four years ago, This is a Step (FMR, 2008). In the following years both expanded their musical spectrum. Vågan in the experimental acoustic duo Vertex with percussionist Tor Haugerud, the powerful, improvisational unit of Marval Machine and countless other collaboration and Gjermundrød in her solo project When She Utters and through collaboration with drummer Erik Nylander's orchestra.
Rendition of a Whisper is a set of ten dreamy, wordless songs blending gentle acoustic lapsteel guitar and voice with reserved usage of electronics and live sampling; spontaneously improvised yet all sound complete and surprisingly suggestive. Vågan and Gjermundrød create nuanced sonic textures, responding instantly to the other's inventions but both steer towards the playful, melodic and poetic; they are not shy from friction or employing distorted noises, still their spare and airy songs have a profound emotional impact.
Vågan and Gjermundrød rich vocabularies assist to charge their musical references with invented, twisted contexts. The repetitive, celestial acapella singing on "Mosaic Mantra" sounds part of a sacred ritual, but more as a hymn derived from a futuristic, secular culture. The stressful breaths and pants of "Time Will Perfect Matter" are slowly framed in a cinematic, atmospheric narrative that diminish its threatening burden.
The title piece and the last song "As if Nothing had Happened" are minimalist songs, beautifully blending simple playing on the acoustic guitar and expressive, storytelling vocals, enveloped with sensitive electronic spices. "Postpositive" and the following "Game Theory" and "Amor Fati" rely on noisy electronics and distorted, sampled or distant voices and all three suggests distressing narratives.
An arresting set of strange songs.
Track Listing: He Never Spoke Again; Mosaic Mantra; Time will perfect Matter; Chesire Cat; Vanishing Twin; Rendition of a Whisper; Postpositive; Game Theory; amor fati; As if Nothing had Happened.
Personnel: Petter Vågan: lapsteel, live electronics; Hanna Gjermundrød: voice, live sampling.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.