CD review: Christian Wallumrød Ensemble

outstairsOutstairs
(ECM 373 3062)

Of course the spaces between the notes are just as important as the notes themselves in all music, but the listener is acutely aware of this fact when listening to the latest from the prolific Norwegian pianist and his Ensemble.

The nine-minute opener, Stille Rock, is initially a kind of three-way conversation between two piano chords and a pause, and the effect, especially of the pause, is to draw one in until, with added ensemble weight to the chords and a drum pulse, the feeling is increasingly claustrophobic. There is always a playful edge to Wallumrød’s music – he also plays toy piano – which works with the dark nature of this mood. A kind of musical Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, containing as much irony as that play’s title suggests and with a similar sense of liberation at its close as the pause is finally abandoned in favour of lighter string harmonies.

The Christian Wallumrød Ensemble

The Christian Wallumrød Ensemble

The band matches the jazz horns with the folk/classical strings and the writing and arranging accentuates the fact that this band operates in the gaps between genres, using classical harmony, folk melody and jazz freedom in balance. Add large doses of harmonium, which the leader also favours, and the austere interior of a white, wooden chapel in a Norwegian winter is also conjured in sound.

Although Wallumrød is the sole composer, the arranging is shared out amongst the band. Bunadsbangla has a lumpy folk dance feel to it and could go back centuries, while with Tridili #2 the crucial pause returns. Very Slow does what it says… and Beatknit has as its bedrock a Stever Reichian pulse with slight hiccups, and Folkskiss is a simply gorgeous trilling harmonium -based melody which need do nothing but circle again and again with the whole band gently adding subtle decorative skirls and turns, before harmonium gives way to piano and the mood expands in a new direction.

An absorbing and thoughtful album which was initially a little tricky to come to terms with, but is growing in appeal by the listen.



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