Origin: Vancouver, British Columbia
"...you can get a feeling of elevation, maybe even levitation. It's that stunning...my favorite record of the year so far." - Mark Saleski, Jazz.com
Many other reviewers of this young trio's first record, Equilibrium (2009), were captivated by their fresh blend of styles and genres (creative jazz, chamber music, folk music, live electronic voicescapes and more). Several tours later they returned to the studio. Whereas Equilibrium was recorded before they had even performed live, they now explored all the spaces that had opened up in performance, laying down over three hours of improvs as well as new compositions by all three group members. Some of the improvs have been cut out of longer sequences, but there are no overdubs. Surprising twists and turns, melodic and harmonic inventiveness and expansive textures and dynamics all reflect a finely honed group interaction.
Each of the three has their own characteristic methods and aesthetic. Sissel Vera Pettersen is a Norwegian vocalist (now based in Copenhagen) who for the last ten years has been co-leading groups and/or recording with the likes of Theo Bleckmann, Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Toumani Diabaté; in 2010 she was nominated for a Danish Grammy for best jazz vocal album. Her style combines a cool, sensuous timbre with techniques inspired by a wide range of folk music and non-western cultures, even birdsong, often morphed through looping and other live electronics (e.g. the "bass" lines in "Silverise," created using an octaviser). Her song "A Word" (with lyrics by her boyfriend Carl Martin Faurby) is an imagistic evocation of relatedness and separation, its meanings sparked by the text's cycling juxtapositions.
Joachim Badenhorst is Belgian but has spent the last two years based mostly in Brooklyn, recording with guitarist Ryan Blotnick (Everything Forgets) on Songlines, working with Tony Malaby but also as a member of the Han Bennink Trio, developing new American collaborations while continuing to co-lead groups in Europe. His elegant yet pungent playing reflects an interest in "music that is hard to catch or corner...early Dave Douglas, Tim Berne, Dans les Arbres, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Zorn, Braxton, Threadgill, and doom bands like Sunn O)))."
Danish guitarist Mikkel Ploug, Equilibrium's main composer, also leads the Mikkel Ploug Group (featuring Mark Turner) and Trio and has three CDs on Fresh Sound. His guitars knit together sonic and harmonic space and provide rhythmic impetus. His "Running Through Fields Theme" features fingerpicked guitar, a new technique for this group, suggesting folky roots and a continuing admiration for Ben Monder. "Walking Voices" and "Addicted to Changes" are longer, multi-sectional pieces that rise to raucous, near-rapturous heights of group expression.
The record ends with "Sires" - according to Mikkel "a very typical improvisation for us, as one of the things that always inspires us is to see if we can blend our sounds so much we can't tell who is doing what." Sissel thinks of it as "almost more of a little pop tune....I really like the wavy feel of it, and I love Joachim's singing through his clarinet, and Mikkel's airy loop towards the end. I think it's a perfect way to end the album, to just lean back and breathe with it." Yet one might also sense a disturbing undertow, an ambiguity of tone - some unforeseen synergy that suggests the transformative effects of their process (Mikkel: "People say they get images in their head when they hear our music. I guess that's understandable!")
Then there's the problem of what you call music that has so many different roots and strands, and how to reach people who'd respond to it as whatever it means to them if only they knew where to find it. If it's true though that genres are in the process of losing their definitions anyway, then, adds Sissel, "the most interesting music is not in need of an explanation. Like in visual arts I don't want to be told too much...that way my mind is most open to receiving and reflecting. I want our music to be like that too. Almost like a prism, where our music is white light that breaks into different colours in the meeting with its different listeners."