With The Zoo Is Far
, pianist/composer Christian Wallumrød increases his compositional control of the musical forces, now a sextet, at his disposal. This is music of the interior mind, which has an intensity fused to a melancholic beauty. It is mesmerizing, while existing at the boundary of composition and jazz.
The quartet that appeared on A Year From Easter
(ECM,2005)Wallmurød, Arve Henriksen (trumpet), Per Oddvar Johansen (drums, percussion), Nils Økland (violin, Hardanger fiddle, viola)has been augmented with Giovanna Pessi (Baroque harp), and Tanja Orning (cello) with Gjermund Larsen replacing Økland on violin.
The additional instruments allow Wallmurød's carefully crafted compositions more sonic possibilities. Besides the common player in Henriksen, The Zoo Is Far
shares much of the aesthetic of Frode Haltli's Passing Images
(ECM, 2007). Both works use a blending of the instrumentation to achieve an overall sound that represents the group as imagined through the composer's respective compositions. However, the two recordings explore differing spaces, with Haltli giving a larger amount of improvisational room to the performers.
The record is made up twenty-four tracks, most of which are under three minutes. A few distinct compositional groups make up seventeen of the twenty-four tracks and provide a thread for the ear. In discussing the degree of improvisation in this music, Wallumrød states that drummer Johansen is almost entirely left to his imagination, but that in general only parts of some pieces are improvised. Indeed, he says, "Whenever something comes up that reminds me of jazz, especially sound-wise, I try to avoid it."
Thus, The Zoo Is Far
is a compositional exploration of a sonic space that is in general dark and in the lower range. The instruments are used for their ability to blend: the Baroque harp blends with the piano (at least as played by Wallumrød), the cello blends with the higher stringed instruments, Henriksen's trumpet blends with everything (which is his trademark) and Johansen's percussion is carefully calibrated not to overwhelm.
The three "Backwards Henry" tracks, which are based on reversed phrases from classical composer Henry Purcell Fantazias
(circa 1680) are the clearest examples of separation of instrumental voices and share with the four "Psalm Kvæn" tracks a distinct early classical quality. The five "Fragments" feel related by their main chord and could easily be modern classical compositions. The "Detach" tracks (A, B, C) are easily grouped by their base chord, performances, and contain obvious improvised "solos." Both "Arch Dance" (the longest track by far) and "Arch Dance With Trumpet" have distinct improvisation parts within a minimalist context.
As sound, The Zoo Is Far
is fascinating and the compositional prowess impressive. As music it can be enjoyed on many levels and the question of where in the spectrum it is to be placed is quite moot.