Recorded, mixed and mastered by Jan Erik Kongshaug at Rainbow Studio, Oslo, June 2008
Additional home recordings by Geir Lysne, Jorn Ojen and Bjorn Elkjer
The Grieg Code: Geir Lysne's self-assured creative dealings with the inspirational works of a great musical predecessor With such a line-up, Jazz has never sounded like this. Norwegian Geir Lysne's music is audacious, complex, and startling. In a word - unheard-of. An electronic mouth harp grunts and grumbles, archaic cantos tumble head over heels - and horns slither and slide through mystically nebulous lines. Lysne's music has repeatedly amazed the experts, who have in turn praised his work, and awarded him with the Norwegian Grammy. Aurora Borealis - Nordic Lights (ACT 9406-2) was the surprise hit of the 2001 Berlin Jazz Festival. It was followed by Korall (ACT 9236-2) and Boahjenбsti - The North Star (ACT 9441-2), which won the German Record Critics' Award as "best jazz recording of 2006", and was nominated for the Danish Music Award in the Jazz category.
As an enormously creative sound synergist and virtuoso jazz composer, Geir Lysne could also dare to tale on the project at hand: an homage to the music of the Norwegian musical hero Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). The Edvard Grieg Society commissioned Lysne to write The Grieg Code for their congress in Grieg's birthplace, Bergen, Norway. Lysne had already paid homage on Boahjenбsti with his composition "GeirG" (Grieg spelled backwards, the first four letters being Lysne's first name). The piece is a re-fashioning of the theme from the movement "The Death Of Ase" in Grieg's "Peer Gynt" Suite No. 1.
Lysne emphasizes that the pieces in The Grieg Code are not jazz versions of Grieg's compositions. He employs set piano, string, and vocal pieces from Grieg within his own compositions, but he re-works them to the point that they are unrecognisable. Lysne transforms a soprano canto line into a cool bass line, and a violin phrase becomes a drum groove. Lysne calls this procedure "musical anagrams". An anagram is normally a type of word play, the result of rearranging the letters of a word or phrase to produce a new word or phrase (Listen = Silent).
Lysne is such an original thinker that his musical anagrams are simply starting points for his excitingly original pieces. The compositions vibrate and pulsate, transport the listener, escalate into artfully interlocked and layered sounds as the music merges into masterful solos. The soloists include tenor saxophonist Tore Brunborg, flugelhornbrass instrumentalist Arkady Shilkloper, and trombonist Helge Sunde - along with percussionist and mouth harp artist Terje Isungset.
Atmospheric images, landscapes, contemporary reflections: such are Geir Lysne's compositions. What Grieg would compose were he a 21st century jazz composer with roots in Norway's fiords, but exposed to all the global influences - that is what Lysne is attempting here. Lysne doesn't solve the riddles of the respective originals - since his pieces really stand on their own. However, he gives some key clues through their titles: they are anagrams of Grieg's original titles. There is also an original German language title, the musical setting of Heinrich Heine's poem "Wo sind sie hin?" (Where have they gone?), which Lysne morphs into an anagram of two exotic words. The poem is then recited in Danish on the recording. It is a good example of how subtly the creative spirit deals with inspiration. It doesn't matter whether one senses the meaning of the riddles, or simply enjoys Lysne's new music: His compositions are highly complex ensemble-jazz with a Norwegian atmosphere and a contemporary flare. Time and again an absorbing sound. Great listening from Lysne.
All Music Guide
The Norwegian aesthetic for large ensembles is often considerably distanced from the American tradition, though there are mid-Atlantic meeting points, with Mariah Schneider and Darcy James Argue finding some common ground with Jon Balke, Trygve Seim and Geir Lysne. Lysne, in particular, has managed to combine a greater predilection for overt soloing within oftentimes expansive, detailed compositions. The Grieg Code is his fourth album for the ACT label, and it's a logical successor to earlier releases while, at the same time, breaking some new ground.
With his smallest ensemble yet-though, at 13, still a sizable group with plenty of musicians doubling or tripling to provide Lysne a broad sonic palette-it's his first album to also feature the composer/conductor as an instrumentalist. "Dose Das" is a miniature for his soft, breathy tenor-a brief interlude between more cinematic compositions, providing a distinctive yet somehow indefinable Norwegian ambience. Of course, with the music all based on that of Norwegian classical composer Edvard Grieg but radically reworked into original compositions by Lysne, it's no surprise that there's more than a hint of Nordic cool. Lysne's compositions cleverly take snippets of music by Grieg and significantly rework them into forms unrecognizable-except, at best, to the well- versed Grieg fan. As Lysne explains, "A lyrical soprano line became a cool bass line, three octaves down and in reverse."
While a Nordic vibe imbues Lysne's music, there's no shortage of fire to contrast with the ice. The genre-busting "Vebburedon" features saxophonist Tore Brunborg-last heard on his own Lucid Grey (DRAVLE, 2009)-on an increasingly intensifying solo that begins over a spare pulse created by horns and percussionist Terje Isungset's Jew's harp, but gradually gains weight when the rhythm section-bassist Bjorn Kjellemyr, an alumnus of guitarist Terje Rypdal, and drummer Andreas Bye, a past member of Bugge Wesseltoft's New Conception of Jazz-enter to provide a more rock-steady rhythm.
Lysne is a broad colorist, over whom the spirit of the late Finnish composer/drummer Edward Vesala-also a strong reference point for Seim-looms large, especially on the tone poem "Wonde Hinsisi," where dense horns and turbulent, low-end percussion create a simmering chaos beneath Eckhard Baur's plaintive voice and panning trumpet. He's also a cultural cross-pollinator, with Brunborg's lyrical Irish flute opening "Glossi Vangse." A pedal tone sets the foundation for a horn arrangement that elegantly references another great composer/arranger, Vince Mendoza, before a cacophony of voices over marshall drumming lead to a set of odd-metered changes and a baritone solo by Steffen Schorn that begins in warm-toned, John Surman territory, but ultimately turns brasher and more free, finally fading to black.
That Lysne has so many releases under his belt-some recorded at the legendary Rainbow Studio in Oslo, all recorded, mixed and mastered by the studio's equally famous engineer, Jan Erik Kongshaug, for crystalline transparency-yet remains a lesser-known name than many of his contemporaries deserves to be changed. The engaging and creative large ensemble music of The Grieg Code is the perfect entry point to this remarkable composer/bandleader.
- John Kelman, Published: April 5, 2009
You don't find Norwegian composer Geir Lysne (appositely pronounced "listen") in that many reference sources. Yet for all Lysne's classical leanings, and use of soloists who serve the orchestra and the stories rather than themselves, he's comparable enough to Gil Evans, Carla Bley, George Russell or Maria Schneider to be fascinating to jazz audiences and beyond. This set speculates on fellow-Norwegian Edvard Grieg's view of the world if he were reborn as a 21st-century multi-genre composer. Lysne's music is far more trans-European than the stereotype of Norwegian jazz understatement - the evidence is there from the off, when electronic Jew's harp sounds mingle with distant trombones, and warm Gil Evans-like brass melodies swell under vocal chants, then turn into an intensifying Moorish whirl. Slow flute sketches are picked up by singers or a tenor sax and then get funky; a poem is intoned over ghostly metallic sounds; a saxophone or a flute will whisper quietly on its own or against wind and sheep-bell effects. Lysne has used some Grieg melodies, but always laterally - a violin theme assigned to drums instead, a soprano's song turned into a bassline. There's just about enough infectious orchestral swing for big-band fans, too.