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Eivind Aarset: Sonic Codex

John Kelman By

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While there are still plenty of the signposts that make this an Eivind Aarset album, Sonic Codex represents some significant changes for a Norwegian artist who has become the most important (and in demand) guitarist to emerge from Scandinavia since Terje Rypdal in the early 1970s.



While Aarset's almost pathological avoidance of conventional guitar tones—and familiar rhythmic and harmonic approaches—remains intact from earlier albums including Connected (Jazzland, 2004), Sonic Codex does have some of his most identifiable guitar playing on record. Aarset is usually such a vivid colorist that, without the benefit of seeing him, it's often difficult to discern exactly what sounds are coming from his complex array of effects, samplers and looping devices. Still, he's begun to emerge with a more quantifiable guitar aesthetic as part of the 2007 Jazzland Community tour and Punkt 07 festival.



Aarset's work has never been shy on energy but, at least in some places, Sonic Codex rocks harder than on previous discs. It's a continuation of Connected's overriding narrative approach but feels, in many ways, more informed by progressive rock than it does the post-Miles electricity of ?lectronique Noire (Jazzland, 1998). The slow-tempo'd but powerful "Still Changing" sounds where Pink Floyd might have gone had they continued in the vein of Meddle (Capitol, 1971), but with greater instrumental facility and technological savvy. "Sign of Seven" may begin with kalimba and logdrum, but when Aarset's driving riff enters, with a layered overdriven melody, there's a filtered King Crimson dynamic at play.



Despite a stronger allegiance to the sound of the guitar, there are still plenty of imaginative textures, near-ambient vibes and "how does he get those sounds" scratching of the head moments. Still, even the sonically expansive "Cameo" has multiple layers of definitive guitar tones as part of its overall soundscape. "Family Pictures III," a continuation of two earlier pieces on Connected, reunites Aarset with longtime friends and Punkt Artistic Directors Jan Bang (sampler) and Erik Honor? (field recordings) for three minutes of gentle warmth and subtle atmospherics.



By contrast, "Black Noise/White Silence" begins as an up-tempo piece of near free play, all jagged edges and harsh sonics before dissolving into the ethereal, while "The Return of Black Noise & Murky Lambada" acts as both a reprise of Aarset's own Hendrixian aesthetic and a move towards a more rhythmically propulsive finale that, with lyrical melodies and the reintroduction of kalimba and logdrum, brings things full circle.



Aarset's core group continues to be his Electronique Noire trio—bassist Marius Reksjø and drummer Wetle Holte—but also introduces Audun Erlien on electric bass and a variety of other instruments. Still, it's Aarset's unique approach to sound sculpting and his increasingly strong narrative sense that draws the remarkable Sonic Codex together as a unified whole—reflecting an artist for whom each new release represents significant evolution, unequivocal growth, and nary a misstep.

Track Listing: Sign of Seven; Quicksilver; Dream; Dr?bak Saray; Cameo; Still Changing; Black Noise/White Silence; Family Pictures III; Sleeps with Fishes; The Return of Black Noise & Murky Lambada.

Personnel: Eivind Aarset: guitars, electronics, kalimba, logdrum, programming, glockenspiel, electric bass (7); Wetle Holte: drums, percussion, programming, synth (3, 5), piano (5), celesta (4); Audun Erlien: electric bass (3-5), baritone guitar (1), celesta (1), synth (3), Wurlitzer (5), vocal samples (5); Marius Reksjø: acoustic bass (1, 2, 8); electric bass (6, 9); Anders Engen: drums (2); Hans Ulrik: bass clarinet (1, 2); clarinet (9); Tar Egil Kreken: banjo (5); Jan Bang: sampler (7); Erik Honor?: field recording (7).

Title: Sonic Codex | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Jazzland Recordings

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