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Stein Urheim: Stein Urheim: Stein Urheim

John Kelman By

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Things are looking up for Bergen-based Stein Urheim, a musician who, on the basis of Stein Urheim—his second release on Hubro after the vinyl/download-only Kosmolodi (2012) and third as a leader following his 2009 debut, Three Sets of Music—seems interested in just about anything with strings...and a few without. Beyond his own career, which includes work with Gabriel Fliflet´s Åresong and a guest appearance on The Last Hurrah!'s 2011 Rune Grammofon debut, Spiritual Non- Believers, his Stein and Mari collaboration with Mari Kvien Brunvoll—an electro- acoustic singer who, since enthralling a group of international guests at a church showcase, continues to garner significant attention— has been gaining ground of its own, the duo's sophomore record, Daydream Twin (Jazzland, 2013), narrowly missing out on a Spellemannprisen (Norwegian Grammy) ultimately awarded to singer Susanna Wallumrod's admittedly stellar collaboration with Ensemble neoN, The Forester (Susanna Sonata, 2013).

Stein Urheim picks up where Kosmolodi left off, with Urheim expanding his arsenal even further, adding charango, banjo and analog synths to an already large array that includes, in addition to various guitars, the Chinese gu qin, Norwegian langeleik, Greek bouzouki and Asian tamboura, in addition to flutes, harmonica and, of course for just about any young Norwegian musician, a bevy of effects. The opening to "Kosmoloda"—one of five originals recorded in the deepest, darkest Norwegian winter at the climactically cold but acoustically warm wooden home of legendary violinist Ole Bull—sounds very much like a modern update on Robert Fripp's innovative Frippertronics, first heard on No Pussyfooting (DGM Live, 1973).

But such ambient qualities are quickly moved to the background, as Urheim introduces an acoustic guitar that sounds more like Bill Frisell's solo excursions on recordings like Ghost Town (Nonesuch, 2000)...except even that reference point quickly dissipates as Urheim introduces additional layers, including what sounds like a fretless bass but may be something else, the droning colour of a tamboura, effects that flip lines in to reverse and more. That the primary voice of acoustic guitar—occasionally played with a slide—at one point becomes the only voice, as Urheim then begins to rebuild his layers from the ground up, is just one of many devices used to turn a simple premise into a wondrous one, filled with color, melody, harmony and its own sense of languid forward motion.

Co-produced by Jørgen Træen—regular Jaga Jazzist collaborator and a producer with an uncanny ear for finding things in straightforward music that he then chops up and reshapes into something that, more often than not, is better than what he began with—Stein Urheim also sounds terrific. Every one of its many layers is crystal clear, while contributing to a whole that is absolutely greater than the sum of it parts, as Urheim brings together everything from Americana to Tex-Mex, hints of jazz that incorporate bop- centric phrases and ragtime changes, and electric guitars that move from clean and warm- toned to grittily overdriven—and an overall sound world that is, at one moment, dry and direct while, at another, wet and atmospheric.

Urheim casts a broad net, exploring multicultural influences, minimalist concerns, freewheeling improvisational dispositions...and plenty of blues and folk. An album that magically takes these multifarious sources and coalesces them into a remarkably unified whole, Stein Urheim is an album—and a name—that anyone interested in the broader potential of things with strings will find easy to love...and difficult to forget.

Track Listing: Kosmoloda; After The Festival; Watch The View; Beijing Blues; Great Distances.

Personnel: Stein Urheim: guitars, flutes, harmonica, slide tamboura, fretless bouzouki, gu qin, mandolin, langeleik, charango, banjo, analog synths, effects; Jørgen Træen: modular synth and effects.

Title: Stein Urheim: Stein Urheim | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Hubro Records

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