(ECM 2414 / 15 4714269. CD Review by Peter Jones)
If, like me, you love the serene, timeless, open sound of modern Norwegian jazz, you too will love Atmosphères, which was released last September. The quartet that assembled to make this double CD – Tigran Hamasyan on piano, Arve Henriksen on trumpet, Elvind Aarset on guitar and Jan Bang on electronics – together weave carpets of ethereal melody to soothe the savage breast.
Henriksen and Bang wowed the Cheltenham Jazz Festival as a duo a few years back: who would have thought that a guy who not only blows but whistles and sings into his trumpet, and another one who does nothing but tweak the resultant sounds through a crazy pile of customized technology, could together create music of such richness and intensity? The electronic treatment of all the instruments on this album (except, I think, the piano) make it difficult at times to work out who is playing what, but the overall effect is a more integrated sound texture. To add to the uncertainty, Henriksen has the uncanny ability to make his trumpet sound like a flute. And the fact that the tracks are mostly titled Traces, followed by a Roman numeral, also reduces their individual identity and makes you listen to them as a whole rather than as separate ‘tunes’.
Authorship of the Traces tracks is credited to the musicians on the album, which was largely improvised; five other tracks were written by Komitas Vardapet, a little-known Armenian composer and priest who fell victim to the notorious 1915 genocide, in which the Turks murdered 1.5 million Armenians. Previously Komitas had wandered through the country collecting and arranging folk songs, and succeeded in cracking the code (since lost) for their original notation.
At times this music ripples like a slowly gathering storm. Sometimes it’s chaotic. Elsewhere it’s the sound of a lonely Armenian mountainside in winter. I’m not sure whether it is accurate or even right to describe Atmosphères as ‘background’ music; ‘ambient’ perhaps defines it better. You can have it on in the background, but it also rewards more focused listening.