Album review

Nova – ‘The Anatomy of Bliss’

Nova – The Anatomy of Bliss

(Nova Music. Album review by Rob Mallows)

Can we ever truly know ourselves and the universe around us?

The Danish physicist Niels Bohr – father of quantum physics – was said to believe that any true understanding of space and time was impossible. 

The trio Nova, based in Lucerne, Switzerland, has had a go anyway.

Described in the press release as “an audiovisual journey through space and time”, the band has set itself a high bar, give the immensity and complexity of the known universe and the range of emotions stirred up by its contemplation, not least the bliss of the album’s title.

Like other musicians who’ve looked up to the heavens for inspiration, the other-wordiness of the cosmos and its meaning for humanity has triggered a courageous creativity and something well worth listening to.

Our musical cosmonauts are Christian Zatta on guitars, Florian Bolliger on bass, and Florian Hoesl on drums.

While ostensibly fuelled by jazz, they are also powered by solid rock boosters that help them escape the limitations of the trio format.

Opening track Interstellar Dust is characterised by the sweet tone of the electric bass playing of Bolliger, and is a musical contemplation of the global lockdown and the limitations it has placed on our lives, if not our imaginations.
There is something strongly atmospheric in the held sustain of Zatta’s playing which means this track offers a positive lift-off to what is a very good album.

Flowers for Algernon – in two parts – is inspired by a 1958 science fiction story by Daniel Keyes on the perils of too much knowledge on one’s psyche. There is an eerie thinness to these two tracks, with some note choices creating a dissonance that reflect the moral ambiguities inherent in the story.

The slow first half is replaced with a faster tempo with staccato chords and noisy guitar that attest to the turmoil in the character’s mind as the truth of the world is revealed. It’s unsettling in parts, and no doubt deliberately so.

The next two tracks (over three movements) are inspired by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, and musically they have the feel of something of a magnum opus, with different chapters and moods across fifteen minutes of music that reflect the complexity of Asimov’s story about galactic exploration and the future of human civilisation.

There is certainly a grandeur of vision and while the simplicity of the music doesn’t always match the complexity of the theme, this suite has an expansiveness that appeals.

Asimov also provides the underpinning for 9 times 7, about mankind’s relationship with technology and the power of knowledge. This track has harsh guitars and hard-crashing cymbals mixed with periods of pulsing bass; Zatta’s guitar shines brightly on a satisfyingly groove-filled track which doesn’t go where you’d expect it to.

Missing Star is a mournful ballad on loneliness and emptiness, just guitar picked beautifully without artifice or over-exertion, each note saying something important.

The title track Anatomy of Bliss is long (nine minutes plus) and necessarily so, as the band seeks within that time to capture the “ambivalence of happiness”, something every bit as challenging and unknowable as the nature of the universe.

It packs in a lot – improvisation, some heaviness, a broad tonal palette and a cracking, ever-changing melody – and builds to a satisfying, rousing conclusion. It is a soundtrack for looking out of the window at the expanse of space and letting your mind go.

Nova has created an album that is bold in its scope and offers enough musically to help the listener contemplate the big themes and ideas which prompted Christian Zatta’s compositions.

LINK: Nova website

Categories: Album review

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