Exploring The Runes, Once More
RUNEOLOGY 2 : Various Artists (Rune Grammofon RCDS 2)
FOOD : Last Supper (RCD 2041)

Anyone fortunate enough to get hold of Rune Grammofon’s ‘Money Will Ruin Everything’ will be aware of the range of music which this relatively small label puts out. This latest sampler brings together more of those artists featured on ‘Money….’ as well as some newer names and once again showcases the diversity of styles. It should be a persuasive taster for those still wondering about delving onto the catalogue.

There are certain extremes evident in the selection, starting with the calm of Arve Henriksen, who has added further layers to his solo work by joining forces with Jan Bang and Audun Kleive. His ‘Opening Image’ from ‘Chiaroscuro’ features both his ethereal vocals and trumpet, sometimes seemingly together, and represents the more meditative aspect of the label. This is complemented by the final track from Henriksen’s partner in Supersilent, Helge Sten, (aka Deathprod). The aptly titled, ‘Dead People’s Things’ is a trance-like journey guided by Hans Magnus Ryan’s violin, uncovering unnamed, crepuscular images creeping slowly by. It isn’t credited as such but the other main voice sounds like the theremin, which may be part of Sten’s ‘audio virus’ input. Whatever the source the effect is creepily seductive.

Equally absorbing is the sample from Food. Once more Henriksen is present and his vocals/trumpet merge with Iain Ballamy’s sax to form an austere blend that makes for an intriguing contrast with the electronic interventions that make up the rest of the soundscape. Its overall tone is hauntingly elegiac.

The other extremes of the selection are best represented by the Scorch Trio’s shredding of the components of the guitar trio. Raoul Bjorkenheim has been pushing the electric guitar to the farthest reaches of distortion for years and some of those sonic explorations form part of ‘Luggumt’, the title track of the latest cd. The piece moves through several stages, starting with brooding notes and thrashing percussion before entering a high energy attack that finds drummer Paal Nilssen Love both driving and anchoring the rampant improvisations. There is even a section in which the guitarist sounds fleetingly reminiscent of Hendrix. Again, it is a very tempting taster for the whole album.

More reflective is Nils Okland’s ‘Avminnast’ with its use of Hardanger fiddle to conjure a more bucolic vision of chill landscapes. But finally, back on the wild side, there is a band I haven’t heard of, Shining, who sound a little like Dr Nerve crossed with Beefheart’s old Magic Band. Theirs is a devastating rhythmic assault with some aggressive horn playing and angular explorations of melody. I look forward to hearing more of them.

When I first heard a sample from the new Food cd I thought the title suggested the band’s final statement. However, trumpeter Arve Henriksen is the only one who will no longer be playing with the outfit, so it is actually his ‘last supper’ and not the end of the band as a whole.

But back to the cd. Too often ‘fusion’ music that draws, to some extent, on jazz influences turns out to be a lame hybrid that does no credit to its various sources. Food, however, have access to a range of styles and treat them all with respect, craftsmanship and above all invention. Echoes can be heard of European folk melodies, Japanese flute music, early church chants as well as the judicious absorption of electronic samples.

Incorporating all of these sounds results in a balance that mixes the lyrical sax/trumpet of Henriksen and Iain Ballamy with Thomas Stronen’s extensive percussion vocabulary and some deeply resonant bass courtesy of Mats Eilertsen. The use of electronics, which all members are involved in, completes the mix and ensures that, despite the instrumentation, Food are not an ordinary ‘jazz quartet’ but a unit in which varying textures are entirely integrated to form unique soundscapes.

For example, ‘Exeter Opening’ features strong melodic contributions from Henriksen’s pellucid trumpet and Ballamy’s clear and plangent sax but what elevates the track is the inclusion of a warm and sensuous loop that winds beneath the soloists and inveigles itself into the listener’s consciousness. It is an integral segment of a flawless piece that also foregrounds Stronen’s light, but extremely expressive percussion.

Although most of the work is composed by the whole band Stronen has contributed ‘Daddycation’, a simple theme that finds trumpet, sax and bass initially in unison before each moves off to explore the motif. Once more, the overall effect is one of soothing simplicity where the sparse deployment of notes is particularly effective.

Not all the work is calm and ‘Junkfood’ is a more abrasive, if short, excursion into some of the territory that Stronen is exploring as part of the duo Humcrush. Percussion and electronic samples clatter and ricochet giving the track a brittle, edgy aspect. More skeletal electronics and percussion create tension on ‘Exeter Ending’ a darkly dramatic scenario where fractured crackles give way to a passage of low-key saxophone. It is an unsettling excursion showcasing the more tenebrous leanings of this group’s improvisations.

The closing track, ‘Last Supper’ is spare and elegiac with echoes of liturgical music, heightened by the purity of Henriksen’s voice soaring over the main theme and austerely dramatic drumming. It is an absorbing conclusion to a cd that reflects a wide variety of approaches to a variety of contemporary electronic music.

Humcrush, as the duo consisting of Stale Storlokken and drummer Thomas Stronen are now known, produce an often sparse musical dialogue that somehow sounds composed but is actually improvised in the studio. Much is rhythmically driven with Stronen shaping the structure of a piece while his partner adds jagged keyboard slashes that can veer from the melodic to the more abstract.

‘Dance’ lives up its title with sounds gyrating manically while the title track is suggestive of barren landscapes punctuated by the presence of stiffly marching mutants. ‘In The Cave’ has a more eerie atmosphere, as keyboards re-create a lo-fi mutant gothic film soundtrack and the percussion shakes and tumbles metallically.

Through the thoughtful collation of diverse textures this music sounds both spacious and solid, with tracks like ‘Spectral Rock’, again drawing on the eerie side of their resources, to create an effect similar to walking through an empty gallery full of enticingly tactile sculptures.

While there are obvious connections between the players on these Rune cds they are clearly evolving into units with their own distinctive identities and will hopefully, continue to develop these.

© 2005 Paul Donnelly