LASSE MARHAUG : The Shape Of Rock To Come (Smalltown Supersound. STSO84CD)
KIM HIORTHOY : Hopeness (Smalltown Supersound. STSO70CD)
There are plenty of examples around at the moment of jazz and electronic music being successfully blended. Almost anything that is released by the Thirsty Ear label and Evan Parker’s continuing explorations in electro acoustic territory come immediately to mind. But Marhaug takes the marriage to another level where some will undoubtedly question whether his work is genre-defying or genre-destructive.

He has worked with free jazz players like Paal Nilssen-Love and Mats Gustafsson as well as being a member of Jazzkammer and the title of this new release may be read as homage to Ornette Coleman’s ‘The Shape OF Jazz To Come’. So the jazz connections are there, even if they are somewhat tenuous. What I think Marhaug is doing is more concerned with the spirit and energies of certain types of free jazz. It is confrontational and defiant. If there are structures involved they are far from traditional. Anyone familiar with his fellow Norwegians, Supersilent, will recognise a similar territory where walls of sound are created and an extreme music produced, relying on improvisation, chance and sheer visceral impact. The opener, ‘Sleeper’ begins with a regular pulse then gradually develops into a maelstrom of layered sounds that draw on his use of computer and electronics. He constructs a collision of fairly brutal musics that owes something to the sonic assault perpetrated by Peter Brotzmann’s 1968 milestone ‘Machine Gun’. Only the weapons have altered as the development of technology has given artists like Marhaug the opportunity to attack the senses without the need for an ensemble.

‘Magmadiver’ continues in a similar vein with a more melancholic section allowing the listener a few moments of recovery before ‘All In Good Spirits’ begins its hissing, bristling confrontation which manages to include some vicious percussive effects towards the end. The cd ends with some heavily distorted guitar on ‘It Is My Kind Of Top’ and this, mixed with caustic electronic interventions, is not aimed at the faint hearted.

The title may be somewhat misleading rather than prophetic. I don’t expect an imminent army of defectors from the rock camp. What the cd amounts to though is an intense sonic experience in the way that late Coltrane could be, Cecil Taylor still is, or a band operating just outside the genre, like Faust, can be. That, of course, is the appeal. It’s often savage, sometimes unpredictable but equally compelling.

Hiorthoy, on the other hand, is working at the gentler end of the musical spectrum. The title of his e.p. is an apt reflection of the sounds he’s made. Mostly reflective, optimistic and, like some of his art, a little haunting.

The first track, Mandarinerna’ features chiming keyboards that ripple translucently, creating a sense of space and colour while there is a muted jazz sensibility evident on ‘Soliga Dagens Slappiga Trosor’. Here a double bass sample flexes subtly beneath the bright pools generated by the keyboards and the overall sound is soft and hazy, apart from the occasional percussive outburst. It reminded me of a less complex version of Zappa’s synclavier pieces on ‘Jazz From Hell’.

‘Alt Maste Bli Anorlunda’ has an even softer ambience, like rain dripping into small puddles, or the gentle tapping of temple gongs. If sounds can be luminous then that’s what these are. The start of the longest track, ‘You Know The Score’, has an edgier feel which kicks in with some crisp drumming and harsher keyboard samples. Gradually though, it shifts into a fairly gentle mix of percussion and keys.

There is something child-like about the world created in these little soundscapes and they provide a quieter alternative to the ferocity of Marhaug’s work. It is interesting to compare the escapist tones of one with the all out attack of the other, exemplifying how the differing facets of the Norwegian electronica/jazz/noise scene can co-exist fairly compatibly.

© 2004 Paul Donnelly