The duo Owl is the Norwegian musician Karl Haugland Bjorå, teaming up with the Danish saxophonist Signe Emmeluth; both reside in Oslo at time of writing, and they worked for a few days at Flerbruket with the engineer Magnus Nergaard to produce their first record, Mille Feuille (SOFA MUSIC SOFA 580).
Guitarist Bjorå has played in the groups Brute Force, Yes Deer, Megalodon Collective, Spacemusic Ensemble, and others – all of whom may play modern updates on free jazz or experimental rock music. Signe has blown her sax with Emmeluth’s Amoeba and Kasper Agnas Cirkus and other recent combos whose work has eluded me. For today’s record, we have one long track ‘Upon Arrival You Forgot Why You Left’, followed by five shorter pieces, in which our two friends try out various combinations of the alto saxophone, guitar, live electronics, percussion, and recorders. From the press notes, there’s a brief description of the interactive process used by these players – the two main themes seem to be (1) “happy accidents” and (2) “many layers”. The first trend refers to the way they play together and about how they propose to react to each other, which comes across as incredibly laid-back and open-ended.
I say this because having been immersed in the music of Formanex quite recently, I’ve been pondering on such matters as pre-planned rules, scores, and what these can bring to the improvisation game; French group Formanex evidently take it quite seriously and work hard to evolve a productive collaboration within the context of a disciplined framework. Owl, on the other hand, are quite relaxed about it; what’s telling is the phrase “both musicians have their own opinions” about the application of “controlled and uncontrolled impulses”, and consequently they allow any unexpected development into the schema. This may have some bearing on why the music seems so undemanding on today’s spin; they make lovely sounds, they play well, the combinations of instruments are immaculate, and this emerges as one of the most user-friendly free improvisation records we’ve heard for a while. At the same time, they seem a bit too eager to please; one isn’t feeling the tension between the personalities, or engagement with solid ideas. Not a bad record, but something here rings hollow for me. From 3rd April 2020.