Nils Petter Molvær – Buoyancy
Sony Music/Okeh – 88985308092. CD review by Rob Mallows
On listening to the opening track of this album one might easily think trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer was a guitarist. The piercing, high-energy, sawtooth attack on opening track Res Mohammed, with all the sound subtlety of an angle grinder, sounds just like a distorted guitar. But no, he’s clearly a trumpeter. It’s his use of electronic effects and distortion that allow Molvær on Buoyancy to conjure up a fantastically unnerving, unusual sound from an instrument that’s usually heard in a relatively unadorned state in jazz.
From the over-blown yet self-assured rhetoric on his website – “Nils Petter Molvær is always a world ahead of himself and the rest of humanity! it is clear that this artist has a clear belief in himself and his music, and in his role as pioneer for the trumpet sound. This is an unconventional album in terms of soundscape and benefits from being so. The list of unusual sound sources – guitar, banjo, National Resonator, blossom bells, rack bells, knives and forks (yes!), radio and noises – suggests a composer who’s not content with the humdrum and the everyday.
Assisting Molvær on this tour de force of experimental and industrial sound that brought to this reviewer’s mind some of the jinglier, sharp-edged pieces by bassist Jonas Hellborg are some of Norway’s top players. His fellow travellers are Geir Sundstøl on things stringed (too many to mention), Jo Berger Myhre (dealing with the bass tones rather than just simply playing bass) and Edlund Dahlen taking on rhythmic responsibilities. He’s the one bringing the world of cutlery into modern jazz.
There’s a concept at the heart of this album. I don’t know what it is, but there is, the PR spiel tells me. It’s “a journey through the horizontal, vertical and temporal.”
No, I’ve no idea either.
But don’t let any of this put you off. There’s something good at the heart of this album: balls-out trumpet playing, highly poetic passages and a musical topography that is as jagged and unpredictable – and as granite tough – as the mountain ranges that overlook Norway’s fjords. It’s jazz, but then again, it’s not. There’s an avant garde disdain for convention on much of this album alongside some recognisably conventional melodies. Challenging, sure. Contradictory, absolutely. But it’s certainly compelling listening.
Second track Gilimanuk is restrained, all sustained notes, breathy undertones and space in which guitarist Geir Sundstøl squeezes in some languid pedal steel phrases. Fifth track Lamna Reef – trumpet, voice, strings in perfect unison in an oddly sub-continental sound over which claps and – yes – cutlery cut in on every fourth beat to tremendously disconcerting effect, while the country sounds of the pedal guitar pop in and out. It’s all weird and wonderful in its way and forces you to listen. This is not background music – it’s palpable, concrete and in your way. It is an album – and a group – that will not take kindly to being ignored.
Across nine tracks, this album has some of the most inventive sound pictures I’ve heard in a while, real wall-of-sound stuff that errs just … just on the right side of listenable. Doesn’t all work, for sure, but full marks to Mr Molvær for wearing his musical heart on his sleeve and saying: deal with it. It’s not a friendly, accessible album that demands Radio 2 airplay. It requires active listening. And if you persist, it pays you back handsomely.
And this is what is about: pushing boundaries, travelling to the unknown, getting trapped somewhere else. Thanks for this review, and thanks to Molvaer for his ever inventive musical journey.