Samuel Hällkvist – Variety of Live
(BoogiePost Recordings BPCD020. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)
In 2014, following his 2012 studio release Variety of Loud, Swedish guitarist Samuel Hällkvist made the decision to tour Denmark and Sweden in order to satisfy his curiosity of playing live with his strong personnel of Pat Mastelotto (traps & buttons), Qarin Wikström (voice, keys), Guy Pratt (bass) and Stefan Pasborg (drums).
It was, however, almost a year later that Hällkvist decided on his preferred artistic route for the recordings of the gigs. Rather than put out a straightforward live album, he would use these performance accounts as a basis for a fusion with studio creativity, inviting a number of guest contributions. The result is a powerful, immersive experience of rock, prog, jazz, funk and electronica, suggesting the busy, instrumental sound worlds of – amongst others – King Crimson, Peter Gabriel and Nik Bärtsch.
The complimentary ‘prog’ tag is perhaps inevitable, given that Guy Pratt (Pink Floyd sideman bassist) and Pat Mastelotto (drummer with King Crimson since the ’90s) are part of the driving energy propelled by drummer Stefan Pasborg. And, along with the influential role of keyboardist and programmer Richard Barbieri, as well as exotic world-music chants from Qarin Wikström, Mocako Asano and Yukiko Taniguchi, the improvisational jazz element is reinforced by British-based musicians Yazz Ahmed (trumpet) and Denys Baptiste (saxophone).
As Barbieri explains, it’s the supportive cohesion of Hällkvist’s guitars and devices which makes his approach so appealing: “I like the way he ‘mangles’ his guitar sounds to produce the weirdest textures and glitches. His playing is always tasteful and integrated into the song – there’s no showiness or overplaying.” Having said that, Variety of Loud can be intensely mesmerising, the usual instrumental delineation frequently blurred into a blend of constantly evolving phrases, rhythms, effects and atmospheres. Opening number Greyer Melange develops, raga-like, as Hällkvist’s sustained, crackled guitar squeals (not unlike Fripp or Manzanera) permeate a vocalised, synthy pulse; and Chord: Horror Vacui bubbles to Patrick Moraz-style steel-pan keyboards and Baptiste’s flowing tenor, before Pasborg’s percussive battery erupts in blistering fashion.
Other highlights include the rocky modulations of Kiopotec, with a highly-charged, processed groove whose instrumentation is fascinatingly difficult to decipher; and Heru Ra-Ha/Road, which throbs effusively and then gradually stratifies, is pleasingly reminiscent of Bärtsch’s Ronin. Music for the Maraca Triplet turns away from its initial Gong-like, xylophonic trance to become increasingly Floydian (though with apparitional trumpet improv), before dropping into the relative, almost-reggae lightness of In Transfer; and the solid rock riff of Cluck Old Hen is tangibly ’70s metal, with strangely becalming trumpet lines from Yazz Ahmed amongst its widely demonstrative female vocals.
This is a continual soundscape in which to lose oneself, rather than a programme of individual tracks – and the effect of Hällkvist’s project at high volume is exhilarating, especially if you have a ‘proggy’ predilection (which, I’m proud to say, I have!).
Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site ap-reviews.com