NORWAY HUBROCD2556 CD (2014)
Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal
NORWAY HUBROCD2544 CD (2014)
NORWAY HUBROCD2548 CD (2014)
NORWAY HUBROCD2456 CD (2014)
Hubro, like many Scandinavian jazz and experimental labels, is mainly one of risk-taking, beginning with formal experiments and counter-intuitive epistemology. Put more simply, they provide platforms for people making pieces that often rip the very idea of ‘pieces’ apart, although this is not the whole story, as we shall see.
This accounts for perhaps half of my deep admiration for the Hubro label, and Smalltown Supersound and Rune Grammofon. The other half is embedded in the astonished gratification I get from their lush production of CDs and vinyl. Their jaw-dropping, often award-winning graphic design. If I had any ability with languages and were younger, I would be living in Oslo right now (and if someone there wishes to adopt me, please do so via Sound Projector).
Often notable on record sleeves are thanks to various state arts agencies for support, the fond for kunstner, which always sounds so appealing. UK avant-gardes usually get by in dire circumstances, with no money and even fewer production options. Let us never romanticise such things. Here, it is as though a neo-Bauhaus has risen alongside the new Cabaret Voltaire of jazz, its extreme experiments supported by a benign and enlightened state.
Their situation is not quite so utopian, I know, but there is no intrinsic reason why a photocopied sleeve and CD-R is any more ‘real’, ‘authentic’ or ‘underground’, and I will risk heresy by suggesting that these labels are doing things how they should be, in an ideal world. And clearly their world is more ideal than ours, in some ways. It’s a real political point, it is.
However, Smalltown Supersound, interesting to note, now boast Neneh Cherry on their roster, the Don Cherry and Swedish background coming to the fore, after years elsewhere. So, there are branches out into ‘the mainstream’ of the capitalist music ‘biz’ too, and very productive ones.
But where to begin with this roundup of recent Hubro gems? Erik Honorè’s album Heliographs is a good introduction, as it maps some of the key figures on the ‘scene’, if you can call it that. It boasts work by Arve Henriksen of Supersilent and Food, and vocals from Sidsel Endresen, who has recorded for Rune Grammofon. These come on a little like Maja Ratjke of Spunk on one track, and the ghosts of Isidore Isou, Bob Cobbing and Ernst Jandl also appear. The lyricless murmur of ‘Navigators’ is formally of blues, jazz and soul, but ‘Sanctuary’ presents us with just the hollow envelopes of those genres, creating an empty feeling, rather than, well, feeling.
Field recordings, synth, violin, trumpet and guitar somehow collapse the ancient and modern into each other, a scrapyard car crusher of time – which Arve Henrikson’s best work does anyway – evoking ancient rite music and contemporary electronica equally. This is what the Hubro label and entire Scandinavian cultural interzone does at its best.
Appropriately then, ‘Last Chance Gas & Water’ is a sinister scrape, a remote moment, a ballooning of noise and scree out of our global situation. Norway’s lush cultural scene sits on its oil-rich status, after all. But here is haunting emptiness, the sound of something metal rattling in the wind, a literally post-human soundscape. Honorè thanks David Sylvian, who has been notable for his immersion in this scene. His default presence on this track is felt, particularly his work with Holger Czukay, again bringing the collage back into sound.
Håkon Stene won a Norwegian Grammy in the Contemporary Music category for his album Lush Laments for Lazy Mammal: I return you to the cultural-political points I began to sketch out above. This album contains compositions by Laurence Crane, Gavin Bryars, Christian Wallumrød and Stene himself. Crane checks Cage, Feldman and Satie. I hear Scelsi and the Modern Jazz Quartet. ‘Holt’ is all gorgeous vibes, before ‘See Our Lake’ deploys them against a string backdrop, re-inserting tradition again, somewhat sombrely.
Very un-somber are Møster!, who, like MoHa! deploy the exclamation mark beautifully in their naming. Could this be the Scandinavian umlaut? They are part of the same tradition too, musically, somehow part of the incestuous family of Utralyd and Noxagt.
Here, they present their album Inner Earth, listed as ‘Jazz’ by iTunes, it is a kind of 1970s sci-fi heavy-prog bruiser. ‘Descending Into This Crater’ parts one through four could have been on Vertigo, in 1973. I wish it had been, I fantasise about that being so. I fantasise about being the guitarist. Or drummer. The daydream flickers in and out of register, as the drums pound through to a deeper level of the planet’s strata.
The guitarist Hans Magnus ‘Snah’ Ryan utterly ups the ante for the adjective ‘blistering’. The jazz element is present too, and in the invocation of Vertigo: This could easily be a dirty, dream collaboration between Sabbath and Nucleus. This is no technical operation, or tricky navigation of already existing tunnels, this is a search for the earth’s core like the descent to hell and/or Valhalla, delete as you please. This is all piledrivers and dynamite, explosions, sparks, debris, clouds of blasted earth and raining shale. Møster! I love you (see above re adoption).
Vagabonde Blu by Frode Haltli returns us again, in some ways, to introverted Norwegian calm. This is essentially a live solo accordion performance. The album is listed as ‘Classical’, but I would file it under folk for sure. I have a problem with reviewing live albums sometimes, preferring to write a live review as a participant, or not at all. It depends on what the object brings to the table, but this document is amazing.
It was recorded in the Emanuel Vigeland Museum’s Tomba Emmanuelle, a weird, painted, crypt-like vault. Seeing is believing, Google it. Emanuel’s brother, Gustav Vigeland was responsible for the incredible sculptures in Oslo, invoking life and death, through often erotic figures. Vigeland built what became known as Tomba Emmanuelle as a studio in his garden, as a future museum for his work, but he later bricked it up as his own mausoleum. Vigeland’s urn is above the entrance to the door.
The ambience of the hall is vast, and part of the uniqueness of the document. Here, Haltli plays works by Salvatore Sciarrino, Arne Nordheim and Aldo Clementi. The Sciarrino piece is all tiny noises, but here they are blasted into the cosmos of the dark space. Pauline Oliveros modernist stabs of accordion give way to Deep Listening drone tones, which seance the space back at the non-attender, like a kind of tonal remote viewer. Dropped objects and scuffles inflate into a huge, dark meniscus, before imploding. The intersection of the space, the event, the immediate moment and the past, like a photograph, all begin to fold together in strange, occulted ways.
The closing twenty minutes of ‘Ein Kleines’ finishes the performance almost sentimentally, after the insane carny-gone-mad of ‘Flashing’, Arne Nordheim’s piece, our contemporary Babylon over-writing earlier social structures. This record seems to offer dark warnings, Oslo is the city of Anders Breivik’s attacks after all, and the Vigeland work speaks again after this, not least because Gustav Vigeland was a Nazi sympathiser. But the album also says ‘hope’, and this whole slew of Hubro releases give us that in large doses.