Norwegian, Bergen-based guitarist Stein Urheim, known for his duo with vocalist Mari Kvien Brunvoll and his own drone band The Last Hurrah, released an impressive, limited edition album two years ago, Kosmolodi (Hubro Music, 2012), where he began to explore his breadth of musical vocabulary on guitars and other acoustic stringed instruments. Urheim melts organically exotic elements of blues and jazz, West-African, Middle-Eastern, Indian, and East-Asian traditional legacies with Nordic folk music and even compositional ideas of seminal American composers as Lou Harrison and Steve Reich into a cohesive, effective entity. At times he sounds as if updating and improving the innovative and like-minded, new-world music that guitarists Henry Kaiser and David Lindley created in their journeys to Madagascar, Norway in the early nineties and recently in Antarctica.
The recording of the self-titled album took place at Villa Lysøen, the magnificent home of the legendary Norwegian violinist Ole Bull (1810-1880), outside of Bergen in January 2013. The old wooden house, ice-cold at that time of year, had a fantastic atmosphere, and warm acoustics beautifully captured by sound engineer Audun Strype. The original recording was later edited in the studio by technician and producer Jørgen Træen, who added subtle synthesizer overdubs.
The five, nuanced textures suggest exotic cinematic stories, all rooted in the blues and all are built from delicate layers of inventive playing techniques of the stringed instruments. "Kosmoloda" is framed in a simple blues scale but colors it with subtle East-Asian drone and touches of electric, atmospheric ambiance. On "After The Festival" Urheim enhances his cosmopolitan vocabulary and offers a sensual and playful piece that touches and goes simultaneously on passionate flamenco, lush Caribbean dance, melancholic country music, contemporary music for the guitar, and experimental studio effects without losing its focus and natural flow. "Watch The View" extends gently and patiently the blues theme with impressive slide work, slowly mutating its theme into an enigmatic Indian raga scale. "Beijing Blues" continues the journey farther East, transforming the blues into a majestic ceremonial piece.
The last piece, the aptly-titled, "Great Distances," emphasizes again and again, that despite all the lengthy distances, different, and even conflictual, cultural legacies and varied musical techniques, it is still music after all. Music with its common, basic ingredients that tells a deep, emotional story about us humans, wherever we are. And all of us can nourish and heal from listening to the true essence of the blues.
Kosmoloda; After The Festival; Watch The View; Beijing Blues; Great
Stein Urheim: guitars, flutes, harmonica, slide tamboura, fretless
bouzouki, gu qin, mandolin, langeleik, charango, banjo, analog synths
and effects. Jørgen Træen: modular synth and effects.