Christian Wallumrod Ensemble
Recorded November 1996, Rainbow Studio, Oslo
From the very beginning of its history, ECM Records has championed the improvised music of the Far North. Its already substantial "nordic panorama" is now further expanded with the debut album of a trio made up of three young Norwegians. Their subtle, serious, original music shows an astute awareness of the achievements of Scandinavian jazz, yet also looks beyond it. No Birch (the title alludes to a famous poem by Swedish writer Karin Boye) is quietly adventurous, proposing a nexus between what one might term the post-Feldman, quasi-subliminal impulse of specific new music directions on the one hand, and developments in free playing that could be traced back to Paul Bley's daring use of space on the other. Either tendency can bring a musician to the realization that the absence of sound can be as potent and energizing as its presence, and indeed the Wallumrod Trio is unafraid to broach the brink of silence.
The internal dynamic of the band derives from the adroit balancing of its members' musical preferences. To oversimplify, Wallumrod is the band's "jazz" player, Henriksen makes free improvisation his first priority, and Kjos Sorensen's percussion colours reflect his commitment to modern composition. It is perhaps the latter's presence that most quickly establishes the trio's originality.
Born in 1965, Kjos Sorensen is the group's senior member and a musician recognized as the foremost classical percussionist in Norway today. He studied in Oslo, Banff and Versailles, before taking up posts as principal percussionist with the Bergen Philharmonic, the Stavanger Symphony and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. His solo recital repertoire includes pieces by Xenakis, Stockhausen, Lachenmann, Donatoni, Volans, Denissow and many others. Kjos Sorensen has developed an improvised language to accompany modern dance together with violist Gro Lovdahl, recently demonstrated in the ballet Ploss in Oslo, and also works frequently with noted French percussionist Jean-Paul Drouet.
Trumpeter Arve Henriksen, born 1968, studied at the Trondheim Conservatory and has worked as a freelance musician since 1989. He has played with many musicians familiar to ECM listeners including Jon Balke (of whose Magnetic North Orchestra he is also a member), Anders Jormin, Edward Vesala, Jon Christensen, Audun Kleive, Nils Petter Molv?r, Misha Alperin, Arkady Shilkloper, Marc Ducret, Bjorn Kyellemyr and the Cikada String Quartet, as well as Sten Sandell, Frode Gjerstad, Peter Friis Nilsen and many other Scandinavians committed to free improvisation. Jazz journalist Roald Helgheim: "Henriksen is a spontaneous and impulsive player. Behind the soft, beautiful trumpet sound on No Birch, there is a hidden eruptive power."
Leader/pianist Christian Wallumrod, born 1971, grew up in Kongsberg, where he began playing the piano at 12 to accompany choirs in a local church. (The church mode feel of "The Birch", a piece that appears in four variations on the new album, may owe something to this background, although there are also affinities with Kenny Wheeler's writing). An early interest in jazz brought him to teachers including Egil Kapstad, the Bill Evans-inspired pianist known internationally for his work with Karin Krog. From 1990 to 1992, Wallumrod studied jazz at the Trondheim Conservatory, going on to work with many Norwegian improvisors including Nils Petter Molv?r, Per Jorgensen, Jon Christensen, Audun Kleive, Tore Brunborg, Bugge Wesseltoft and others. Since 1993 he has also been a member of a large ensemble directed by guitarist Jon Eberson.
Since his Trondheim studies, Wallumrod has been increasingly concerned with composing, writing material for each group and project he has been involved in. In 1994 he and fellow keyboardist Stale Storlokken were engaged to write music for the 30th Kongsberg Jazz Festival. Christian Wallumrod currently divides his time between three trios, working with - in addition to the line-up heard on No Birch - the band Close Erase (with bassist Ingebrigt H. Flaten and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen) and the Rosseland/Wallumrod/Eick Trio (with singer Elin Rosseland and bassist Johannes Eick).
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
Listening to the track called "The Birch", I hear a psalm. Though not religious, I grew up in a rural community in Western Norway where the singing of psalms was not exclusive to religious ceremony but part of daily life. I remember two elderly grandparents who led services every day, performing verse after verse of old tunes I had not heard before - beautiful songs, sad songs. These old people were waiting to leave this world and travel to the promised land, that heavenly realm "where everyday clothes become festive attire, and the small things in life are so fine", as the lyrics run in a verse written by Matias Orheim, a Norwegian psalmist who died in 1958, but whom I can still recall. He would accompany his singing in the village chapel by means of a tumbler, the rim of which he stroked with wet fingers, having tuned his "instrument" with water from a jug. Since then I have thought often of that old psalmist when listening to melancholic, sometimes lamenting spirituals which have, nonetheless, their own kind of beauty. Similarly, the European psalmic traditions - including the Norwegian - have brought forth very moving music, music employed by performers in many idioms.
So I am by no means surprised to hear something that resembles a beautiful psalm on a contemporary album of improvised music, played by three Norwegian musicians, all of them born after the death of the old psalmist. Free improvisation also has its roots, and need not necessarily mean music free of all conventions. "Free jazz" played, as it were, "traditionally" can be just as conservative and as full of cliches as straightahead bebop.
If "The Birch" happens to be the least improvised piece on the present CD, freer pieces reveal a comparable feeling for harmony. The "sacred" atmosphere of the music may be connected to the fact that pianist and composer Christian Wallumrod previously played in a Norwegian gospel group. Trumpeter Arve Henriksen grew up in a community with a deeply-rooted religious culture in the mountains of Western Norway. For whatever reason, there is something solemn in this music, and the opening track, "She Passes The House Of Her Grandmother,"could easily be music for a Bergman movie."The Birch", an original composition by Wallumrod in four variations, was written to a poem by the Swedish writer Karin Boye (1900-1941) called "Of Course It Hurts When Buds Break," one of the most widely-read poems in Scandinavia. I have heard the same piece performed by another trio that included Wallumrod and Henriksen together with singer EIdbjorg Raknes. All of them belong to an aware, young, conservatory-trained generation of players that emerged in the early 90s.
The conservatory in Trondheim is often considered the hatchery of this generation of musicians. Interest in improvised music has been growing at several Norwegian musical academies, especially at the Norwegian State Academy of Music in Oslo where the Russian pianist and composer Misha Alperin has been an important source of inspiration. The senior member of the trio, Hans-Kristian Kjos Soren-sen, often works with Alperin. Educated in classical percussion, Kjos Sorensen is currently a much sought-after player in the European contemporary music milieu. His experience in jazz includes both big bands and small combos.
The trio has been playing together since January 1996, when they held their first concert in a church in Oslo. Perhaps what we are listening to on this recording could be described as a meeting between a "classical" musician with a feeling for jazz, and two contemporaries with a jazz background who are seeking form and structure.
Of the three, Wallumrod and Henriksen have worked together longest. Wallumrod is the thinker, a serious musician who seeks the innermost depths in everything he does. Henriksen, in contrast, is a spontaneous and impulsive player. He admits that his choice of instrument was arbitrary, it was important merely to find an instrument on which to express himself. In other groups, he sings quite as often as he plays. Behind the soft, beautiful trumpet sound on this recording, there is a hidden eruptive power.
In Kjos Sorensen, Wallumrod and Henriksen found the third dimension, a percussionist with a pulse unlike the conventional drummer, able to improvise to modern dance just as naturally as he plays in a symphony orchestra. Listening to Hans-Kristian Kjos Sorensen's finely tuned chimes on his solo track, "Royal Garden", I'm again reminded of the old psalmist who tuned his tumblers with the chapel's water jug. Kjos Sorensen's sounds are as persuasive as Wallumrod's pure piano chords or Henriksen's airy trumpet. And then there is the composition built upon one of the most beautiful poems in Scandinavian literature, which has become a thread that unites this recording. The poem, not lending itself readily to English translation, has been retitled'The Birch".The thing to bear in mind is that it concerns a tree - a birch - in bud.
- Roald Helgheim