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Arve Henriksen: Solidification

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: Arve Henriksen: Solidification

Constellations and the Something of Discovery

Music as a chosen profession may suggest occupying the minds of its makers far beyond the 9-to-5 hours of your average job, but for some it goes further still. Transcending mere preoccupation, trumpeter Arve Henriksen seems to eat, drink, sleep and dream music, 24/7, 365 days a year. "I was sitting in my car recently, driving from Oslo to Gothenburg," Henriksen relates, "and I just started to sing and sing and sing. And I discovered a new technique to get more ornamentation, and I just thought, 'Wow, how come I haven't done that before?'"

Those who have followed Henriksen know that his is a career singularly marked by a preoccupation—some might call it an obsession—with finding roads less traveled. Henriksen's evolution has been nothing short of remarkable, an artist who steadfastly avoids the confines of convention, from his early days with Veslefrekk—the mid-1990s trio that, with keyboardist Ståle Storløkken and drummer Jarle Vespestad, would morph into the groundbreaking improvising collective Supersilent, when guitarist/soundscapist Helge Sten (aka Deathprod) joined the group in 1997—through the (r)evolutionary successes of his three Rune Grammofon titles, issued here on vinyl for the first time, and more recent acclaim for his ECM Records debut, (2008). Still, as rapid as Henriksen's rise to international acclaim has been since the release of his first Rune Grammofon title, Sakuteiki (2001), he's never lost sight of the fundamental that in order to break the rules, first you must know them.

For Henriksen, it's all about finding new ways to create sound, and the more unorthodox the path, the more risks taken, the better. Few, however, have the intestinal fortitude to make their first record a true solo album. From the opening notes of Sakuteiki's "Sanmon," it's clear that something different is going on. The liner notes say, "all instruments played by Arve Henriksen," but since when did he play the shakuhachi, that Japanese end-blown flute?

The answer? He didn't. Instead, Henriksen has worked with embouchure and extended techniques to expand the tonal and timbral possibilities of his chosen instrument, and there's no better example than "Sanmyaku," one of two bonus tracks from the Sakuteiki sessions, this one previously only available on the out-of-print Rune Grammofon compilation, Money Will Ruin Everything (2004). Here, Henriksen alternates between deep, foghorn-like drones and spare, shakuhachi-tinged melodies; all drenched in copious amounts of reverb to create an expansive landscape redolent of his Norwegian home's stark landscapes and white-capped fjords.

Sakuteiki was recorded in various churches and rooms in Norway (including, for Henriksen, the much-loved Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum), with producer Sten providing plenty of input. "The idea was to make versions of the sketches and ideas I had," says Henriksen. "The music that came out of these sessions was inspired by the Japanese folk music tradition, and I used church organs and harmonium to fill the sound and [assume the] role found in Japanese music by using the shõ [a free-reed instrument]. I played the organs and trumpet at the same time, which was great fun, making it possible to play harmonies and dub myself on the go."

If this music seems as far removed from the North American jazz tradition as can be, for Henriksen there remains, in fact, a deeper connection. "On some old live recordings, I heard [American trumpeter] Nat Adderley play these deep pedal tone notes, and I knew then that it was possible to do it on the trumpet. You can play these pedal notes, just by getting more blood into your lips. It's a kind of trumpet technique, but I'd never heard anyone using it before, so I was quite curious as to how I could make that sound on the trumpet. But when I came to that room [Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum], it was just so easy to do it; the response of the room was enormous and I got so much back. So the drone was created without any electronics or overdubs. The reverb is how it actually sounds in the Vigeland Mausoleum; what you hear on that album is exactly how I played it."

By contrast, the Zen-like "Bonsai Ritual," heard here for the first time, is entirely acoustic—just Henriksen, his trumpet and a metallic-sounding piece of percussion, recorded—as is true of Sakuteiki in its entirety—live to two-track, with no overdubs or post-production editing. "On both [bonus] tracks I tried to orchestrate the compositions by using the acoustics of the rooms, with the trumpet as a tool. On 'Bonsai Ritual,' I hit the bell piece with a stick to create a percussive effect—a 'click' that can relate to the sound you get when pruning a tree."

Sakuteiki's multifarious sound worlds announced the arrival of a clear new voice of rare lyrical beauty, with an even rarer aesthetic vision that placed the demands of the music over more self-centered virtuosic demonstrations. It represented a significant departure from early studies where, prior to attending the prestigious Trondheim Conservatory, Henriksen absorbed aspects of the American tradition through Jamey Aebersold Play Along instructional books/CDs, but also counted artists like Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and Norway's own Masqualero as formative influences.

If Sakuteiki was pure and unadulterated—the honing of a very specific landscape—2004's Chiaroscuro represented an even greater paradigm shift. Co-produced by Jan Bang and Erik Honore—the creative minds behind the annual Punkt Live Remix Festival, and with whom Henriksen had already collaborated on Birth Wish (Pan M, 2000)—the genesis of Chiaroscuro was a 2003 tour with live sampler Bang and drummer Audun Kleive. "We used the live material in different ways," explains Henriksen. "Some songs are very close to what happened live; 'Opening Image' came to us at a gig in Tromsø, and was recorded by our sound tech, Geir Østensjø. Other compositions came to life later in the studio, in postproduction, but are still based on the recorded material from the tour."

What is most immediately striking about Chiaroscuro—beyond being a group recording that finds its own nexus of pulse, color, harmony and melody—is the introduction of Henriksen's singing voice. From the sweeping "Opening Image" to the near-hymnal "Blue Silk," Henriksen's falsetto is as pure as any castrato. Combined with his trumpet playing and increasingly sophisticated yet strangely organic electronics, it speaks to Henriksen's gentle but relentless sense of discovery, the confluence of many factors, not the least being an increasingly busy schedule at the time, working with everyone from Jon Balke's Magnetic North Orchestra and Christian Wallumrod's Ensemble to the Anglo/Norwegian collective Food and, of course, Supersilent.

Like Sakuteiki, Chiaroscuro is a multilayered recording, revealing more with each and every listen. If its collective performances are impressive—and, for the same reason as Sakuteiki, in the trio's selfless devotion to the needs of the music—then so, too, is its radical and alternative approach to composition.

All composition is, in its nascency, improvised; documented on paper or not, all music remains about finding form in the ether. But to improvise music collectively and then shape form from that very freedom seems almost a backwards approach; and yet, in the hands of Henriksen, Bang and Kleive, it works. Henriksen claims not to have written anything down in 15 years, instead choosing to record some piece of improvised music each and every day, whether it's finding a quiet spot in an airport where he can record a soft trumpet melody into his computer, capturing a snippet of an installation at the Crowne Hotel in Köln, or finding a piano to play in Bjugn, a small town not far from Trondheim. But the collaborative nature of Chiaroscuro meant the trio's approach to creating music of permanency was different still—the truest possible spirit of spontaneous composition.

"Jan had three samples prepared in his computer that he played at this gig in Tromsø," says Henriksen. "I played the stuff I did, Audun played the stuff he did, and that became 'Opening Image,' which has since become quite a strong composition." Nearly a decade later, Henriksen—this time in a different configuration, with Kleive and percussionist Helge Norbakken—performed a variation of the piece as part of his performance at the 2012 Kongsberg Jazz Festival.

If the introduction of his voice was an important addition to Henriksen's palette, his staunch avoidance of formal training was equally striking, as has his eschewal of training for any of the other instruments that have gradually expanded his sonic toolkit over the years. "I'm not a multi-instrumentalist," he asserts, "it's just that I'm using the sounds of the instruments. I have certain skills on the instruments because I have a musical inner ear which leads me somewhere, but I don't have formal training. I think there are a lot of interesting sounds that someone who can't play an instrument can create. There's something interesting there; it can be so naked and pure, in a way."

Chiaroscuro also continues to develop Henriksen's expanding vernacular on the trumpet. Of the three bonus tracks included here from the original sessions, "Short Frame" feels more like an outtake from Sakuteiki, a brief miniature dominated by Henriksen's horn, where his tonal experiments continue to bear unexpected fruit. The eight-minute "Jump Cut," on the other hand, presages Henriksen's recent Percussion Trio with Kleive and Norbakken, a pulse-driven experiment where Henriksen augments Kleive's tribal rhythms with percussive puffing sounds in his horn, alternating with brief melodic snippets, as Bang introduces twisted, stuttering reiterations of his band mates' contributions. As a coda to Chiaroscuro's concluding side, "Clear But Obscure" feels almost minimalist, with Henriksen's horn sampled, looped and processed to create a repetitive cloud over which he then layers a soaring, almost crying theme driven forward by Kleive's hand percussion and a gently shifting bass tone.

From the very first notes of "Evocation," the opening track to 2007's Strjon, it's clear that Henriksen had arrived at yet another plateau. "I tried to imitate saxophone players when they use multiphonics," Henriksen explains. "Or [trumpeter Per Jørgensen, when he's very tired, and his tone splits and spreads out like a chord."

But emulating other instruments and other peoples' approaches are just two ways that Henriksen looks to use his instruments as nothing more than sound sources. Brian Eno, in his Oblique Strategies, wrote "Honor thy error as hidden intention," to which Henriksen replies, "Art by accident. It's happened so many times that I've pushed the wrong knob on the mixer. I don't know why it happens, but it happens, and it has led to some very interesting sounds. To me, when it comes to tone production, it's the same thing with electronics and acoustics. When I was [studying] in Trondheim, I was focusing on technique. Was I doing the right breathing? Was I holding the instrument right? Were the muscles too tight? All these things were taking the focus away from the playing and the communication.

"But then, gradually, I learned to live with it," Henriksen continues, "to stay onstage, to survive on the go, and see that there must be something I could learn from this night, there must be something I could use to create something new. I have to find the quality—if it's good or bad, I have to find it and try to use it, and this goes for embouchure as well. Some evenings the lips just don't work. There can be lots of clicks and sounds that are not supposed to happen, and I have to use them, and if I have a lot of cracks in the tone, then I have to find out how can I use those cracks: what can I create with them?"

A tribute to Henriksen's roots, 2007's Strjon brought together what ultimately became Supersilent's second incarnation—a trio, following Jarle Vespestad's departure the following year to pursue other avenues. If anything, it demonstrates how, with musicians as unfettered as Henriksen, Storløkken and Sten (also back in the producer's chair), these same three players can create a completely different kind of music when placed in a different context—In this case, a series of duos featuring either Henriksen and Storløkken, or Henriksen and Sten. Still, if the music of Strjon is less aggressive and angular than Supersilent at its most extreme, some aspects of Strjon's vernacular are not entirely foreign to the improvising trio's lingua franca. Whether playing with Storløkken or Sten, Henriksen's trumpet is couched in more scopious sonics; as cinematic as anything that had come before, and as organic, too—surprising, given the copious amounts of electronics employed by everyone, and with Henriksen now adding his own keyboard to the mix.

Still, there are moments of painstaking beauty, in particular on "Triangularity," one of three previously unreleased bonus tracks on Strjon's fourth side. Sten's ambiguous chords underscore Henriksen's near-vocal trumpet tone, even as his horn is sampled and re-inseminated back into the mix on the brief "Metals," where the smallest of ideas become somehow greater. "Home," the five-minute closer to the bonus side, is more expansive still, evoking images of harsher landscapes through turbulent touchstones, but ultimately turning, if not exactly lighter, then certainly more stratospheric, as Henriksen's spare but dominant lines lead the electro-centric piece to its more Zen conclusion.

So where has all of this led? Chron, at least to some extent, is an attempt to answer that question. If Henriksen's life has been preoccupied with music making, this 40-minute suite is a consolidation of Henriksen's concerns into one possible next step. "For the last two or three years, I've been recording a lot of stuff by myself at home, in hotel rooms, in airports," Henriksen explains. "I even tried recording in an airplane. To have the computer in my studio here [at home], so I can open it up and, just two minutes later, start recording something ... it's really changed a lot of things. And then you can edit with these programs that can transpose music, move it around, auto-tune ... so many things are possible. And I've been thinking about how I've been doing things and applying it to the way I play."

The idea of using technology to massage real time playing isn't particularly rare, but applying the results of electronic manipulations back into real time playing most certainly is. And if organically blending found sounds with conventional musical instruments is an increasingly common goal, true success in achieving it most certainly is not. For Henriksen, it's all about applying a fresh approach to the instruments in his toolbox, whether or not they're rooted in formal training. On "Hadean," for example, Henriksen instinctively marries the piano played in Bjugn with the installation recorded in Köln. "All the sketches on Chron represent this way of composing and ordering parts," Henriksen says, "to play the music with a real sense of discovery. To create is demanding; but to discover ... now that is something else."

And why vinyl, why now? While debates about the relative sonic merits of vinyl continue, there are a number of other irrefutable justifications. Vinyl makes listening to music an active experience, one where an album must be placed onto the turntable and the needle placed into the groove roughly every twenty minutes. Don't like a song? Without a "Skip" button, it becomes necessary to get up, go to the turntable, lift the arm and move it to the next desired track.

The end result? Most will listen to an entire side without skipping a track. The benefit? A single track may not stand out on its own, but heard in the context of what comes before and what comes after can often be downright revelational.

Then there's the tactile element. "When I was young," recalls Henriksen, "it was so great to open up an LP. Look at the index. The pictures of the musicians and the instruments. The color of the cover. All these things. It was a physical thing; you could take the LP out from the cover and put it on. And if you had a good quality pressing, a needle and everything else, when it worked perfectly it was fantastic."

Reflecting back on Sakuteiki, Chiaroscuro and Strjon, Henriksen suggests that "these were very important years for me. A lot of things happened to me, both musically and in my private life. And Helge did a fantastic job when Cartography was released on vinyl. It's been interesting to follow that up with the idea of this box, and with Kim's design aesthetic [Kim Hiorthøy, Rune Grammofon's graphics designer]. I don't want to get too emotional, but I ultimately wanted to sum up these past few years with a top quality box that also serves as a dedication of sorts to Helge, Jan and Eric. It's a tribute to something, and I don't know exactly what it is [chuckling], but I've been so privileged to make these records. So why make a vinyl box? Why not? [Laughter].

This box is the result of the connection between lots of musicians. It's been a big inspiration to work with them, and I would certainly not have been able accomplish this without all these other fine musicians helping me to find my place in this landscape. It's a document of the here and now; I'm alive now, and I've been so lucky to be so inspired, in all kinds of constellations, by all these fantastic musicians—and, of course, all the other people I've met along the way."

Henriksen may be as selfless in ascribing the importance of the many people with whom he's collaborated as he is his actual performances. Still, if there's a single potent message spoken through Sakuteiki, Chiaroscuro, Strjon and Chron—both individually and collectively—it's this: when the history of improvised music, from the latter part of the 20th century through the first decades of the new millennium, is finally scripted, Arve Henriksen's name will most assuredly be in a position of prominence, if for no other reason than the four recordings you now hold in your hands. And as you prepare to commence a journey that condenses a decade of experimentation and innovation into just under three-and-a-half-hours, remember this also: this is how music is meant to be heard; not as background music, but as something that commands and demands your full attention. It's not actually necessary to use vinyl as the medium through which listening once again becomes an active process, but in this kilogram-weight box set of 14 compelling sides; it's absolutely a great place to start.


Liner Notes copyright © 2024 John Kelman.

Solidification can be purchased here.

John Kelman Contact John Kelman at All About Jazz.
With the realization that there will always be more music coming at him than he can keep up with, John wonders why anyone would think that jazz is dead or dying.

Track Listing

LP1/2 (Sakuteiki): Sanmon - Main Entrance; Viewing Infinite Space; Inside Tea-House; Peaceful Close To Cherry Trees; Procession Passing; Evening Call; Breathing; Beauty Of Bamboos; Tsukubai Washbasin; Planting Trees Creating Beauty; "Stones Should Never Be Placed Carelessly"; White Gravel; Shrine; Paths Around The Pond; Children In My Garden; Sanmyaku (Bonus); Bonsai Ritual (Bonus). LP2/3 (Chairoscuro): Opening Image; Bird's Eye View; Chiaro; Holography; Blue Silk; Parallel Action; Circled Take; Scuro; Time Lapse; Ending Image; Short Frame (Bonus); Jump Cut (Bonus); Clear But Obscure (Bonus). LP5/6 (Strjon): Evocation; Black Mountain; Ascent; Leaf And Rock; Ancient And Accepted Rite; Twin Lake;Green Water; Alpine Pyramid; Wind And Bow; Strjon; Glacier Descent; In The Light; Triangularity (Bonus); Metals (Bonus); Home (Bonus). LP7 (Chron): Proto-Earth; Hadean; Chron; Solidification; Zircon; Plume Of Ash; Magma Oscillato; Archean; First Life; Plate Tectonic; Chronozone.

Personnel

Jan Bang
live sampling
Helge Sten
guitar, electric
Additional Instrumentation

Arve Henriksen: trumpet, voice, electronics, all other instruments (LP1/2, LP7), keyboards (LP5/6); Jan Bang: live sampling and samples (LP3/4); Audun Kleive: drums and percussion (LP3/4); Ståle Storløkken: keyboards (LP5/6); Helge Sten: guitars and bow (LP5/6).

Album information

Title: Solidification | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Rune Grammofon

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