Latest item from the Brooklyn improv label Neither/Nor Records is In The Wake (n/n 10), a simple pairing of Carlo Costa (the label owner) with Hävard Volden and his acoustic guitar. We’ve heard Volden before as part of Moon Relay (rather ordinary Norwegian rock music) and with Martin Taxt in Muddersten (lower-register improv growls). Here, I sense I’ve at last got a chance to hear Hävard Volden in more detail – the album seems to showcase his work, while Costa modestly confines himself to percussive backdrops.
When I say “showcase”, this doesn’t mean Volden is all about the fireworks and incendiary soloing; quite the opposite. Gentle, exploratory strums are the principle mode here; he forms unusual chord shapes and plays odd notes for sure, but what’s mainly of interest is the unpredictable rhythms resulting from his right hand movements. On the first two tracks ‘Awash’ and ‘Pool’, he pretty much creates psychedelic trancey states on his own behalf, with just a little nudge from Costa’s shakers and rattlers. All the more impressive for the utter transparency of his playing; nothing is hidden and it’s all self-evident (which I seem to recall is one of the hallmarks of this label; honest playing where the musicians can’t conceal a bluff behind amplification or editing). ‘Ripple’ is less compelling for me, with its hesitant stabs and dots floating in a lake of silence, as if trying to scooch its way onto Wandelweiser territory. But then there’s ‘Ebb’, which downplays the mesmerising rhythmic approach in favour of a magnetic humming drone, no less effective than the opening cuts, and where the sound of respective instruments is so completely transformed that we’re now in Fred Frith / Chris Cutler territory, whose 1980s duets are almost unsurpassed for primo noise-generation and pushing the boundaries of “normal” guitar sound. I now seem to be rescinding my claim about “honesty” in the playing, but you get the idea.
Highly recommend In The Wake; it’s also quite short (about 30 mins total) which makes it very approachable; and now I’ll go back to other records where Volden appears with a fresh pair of ears attached. From 3rd April 2018.