A meeting of minds, of hearts and of souls. Strata may be the first recording of the duo of Icelandic bassist Skuli Sverrisson and guitarist Bill Frisell, but so attuned are the musicians to each other's wavelengths, and so spellbinding their common language, that you could be forgiven for thinking they had played in this format for donkey's years. Originally a limited edition, vinyl-only release in 2018, Strata is now available for the first time on digital platforms, which is terrific news for the majority on tighter budgets or without a record player.
Sverrisson and Frisell are musical polyglots, though even a brief summary of their respective careers would be beyond the remit of this review. Interestingly, perhaps, they have both collaborated, at different times, with Wadada Leo Smith, Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian. On Strata, Frisell takes the narrative lead on ten Sverrisson originalssome old, some newof arresting melodic beauty, with the composer and bassist in a supportive role, broadly speaking. On the surface this is music of simple design, but there is a depth to the layers that adds up to music that is much greater than the sum of its parts.
In his lead melodic role Frisell may seem to hold the reins, but it is within the folds of the duo's interaction that the magic lies. Seductive harmonic patterns on achingly pretty tunes like "Sweet Earth" and "Vanishing Point," the melodic unison and alluring counterpoint of the faintly baroque "Ancient Affection," and striking contrasts in pitch on "Segment" highlight the commonalities as much as the differences between the two voices.
As ever, Frisell's loops color the musicnot so much his customary cosmic tails, but instead weaves of precisely sculpted secondary and even tertiary lines. On "Vanishing Point" and the gentle waltz "Cave of Swimmers" these layers make the duo sound like a quartet. Sverrisson proves a most empathetic partner, toggling between lyrical economy and fluid counterpoint. Regardless of tempo, the bassist's deft touch imbues the music with bouyancy.
Sverrisson's compositions seem custom built for Frisell, straddling the line between prettily bucolic melodies and darkly somber undertones that characterize much of Frisell's own songbook. The sweet melancholy of "Afternoon Variant" and the introspective, though quite gorgeous "Her Room" are quietly beguiling examples of this duality at play.
Sverrisson's beautifully wrought compositions bring out the best in Frisell, who has rarely sounded more soulful, or more lyrical. It is no exaggeration to say that Strata is one of the finest collaborations in the American guitarist's extensive discography. Hopefully, it will also shine some merited light on the multi-talented Sverrisson, a kindred spirit.
Side A: Sweet Earth; Instants; Vanishing Point; Ancient Affection; Came to Light; Side B: Cave of the Swimmers; Amedeo; Afternoon Variant; Segment; Her Room.
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