xTet Project: Phase First (2010)
's wind harp-driven Dis (ECM, 1977) as a touchstone. He's also capable, however, of more directalbeit characteristically spare and delicatepianism on the melancholy opener, "Intro," one of four tracks that balance Phase First's greater spontaneity with resonant song form.
The link to Splashgirl is further cemented by the participation of that group's primary composer, Andreas S. Løwe, an ambitious young pianist who curated the Punkt Elope series in 2008 and 2009, at Kristiansand's ever-intrepid Punkt Festival, shining a bright spotlight on some of Norway's most intriguing up-and-comers. He's an ideal musical companion for Kurverud; a sensitive player capable of breathing hazy soundscapesa combination of prepared piano and electronicsonto the abstract and rarefied landscape of "Linje," one of two collective improvs that reach back to saxophonist Jan Garbarek
's more drily comedic writing, but with a different instrumental focus. Elsewhere, on the ambling "Liamé," Skaset supports Kurverud's long-toned but dynamically ebbing-and-flowing melody with rich, sustaining chords, before turning to a tart, slightly gritty solo that, by moving in, out and around the beat and harmonic center, becomes an unsettledand unsettlinghigh point of the 55-minute set.
In addition to a rhythm section featuring bassist Glenn Ph. Nilsen and drummer Gunnar Sæter, xTet is fleshed out to a quintet with guitarist Håvard Skaset. Another fearless yet selfless guitarist who, in addition to employing a variety of by-now conventional unorthodoxies, Skaset simultaneously shifts xTet Project to the west and the east on "Banjari," where his solo banjo intro curiously references American folk concerns but with a touch of Indian linearity, before the group enters with a quirky pulse not far distanced from Bill Frisell
The combination of fluctuating tempos, volume shifts from a whisper to a roar in a matter of moments, and a sonic approach ranging from spare and direct to ethereal and atmospheric, might make xTet Project's music seem inaccessible. Taken as a whole, however, what's most surprising is that even on tracks like "Iene,"beginning in Ligeti-like microtonality but, with the entry of Nilsen and Sæter, assuming a distinctly Norwegian approach to temporal elasticity and traditionalismthis deeply cinematic music remains strangely appealing...and undeniably beautiful. Once again, Norway's courageous improv scene delivers another fine group of great nuance, power and profundity.
Track Listing: Intro; Linje; Liamé; Ludosant; Iene; Langsam; Ladies Bird; Pile; Banjari; Svitte; Part II; Part III; Part IV.
Personnel: Lars H. Kurverud: saxophones, flutes, bass clarinet; Håvard Skaset: guitar, banjo; Andreas S. Løwe: piano, electronics; Glenn Ph. Nilsen: bass; Gunnar Sæter: drums, percussion.
Record Label: Bushbaby Records
Style: Modern Jazz