Dream about Plucking Ripe Mango

Plucked and Bowed (FRIM2) is the second release from the FRIM label, the Swedish Association for Free Improvised Music, and is somewhat more subdued than the previous wildie Can’t Hide which featured the talents of sax blower Elin Forkelid…this may be partially due to the acoustic instruments involved. My Hellgren plays cello, Peter Söderberg plays guitar, lute, and theorbo (a 14-string member of the lute family, quite a gargantuan thing apparently), and together they turn in some 47 mins of a single piece ‘Plucked And Bowed’ on this Stockholm recording.

Interestingly, both Hellgren and Söderberg cross over into the contemporary classical genre (Söderberg has done Renaissance and Baroque music, for instance), and this release is less free-jazz oriented than the very pro-active and energised Can’t Hide item. It’s also good to see the healthy gender balance here with the talented female Gothenburg cellist Hellgren – she’s academy trained and performs with a number of contemporary experimental chamber ensembles. Amazingly, this occasion was the first time the duo played together, and yet here they be enjoying a musical rapport that would be the envy of any seasoned improvver, generating a productive conversation, and occasionally creating startling musical / sonic effects that are as crunchy as a pecan dipped in brown sugar. Liner notes by Christer Bothen suggest that the reason for success is quite simple – practice. “They’ve practised for endless hours…years spent with their instruments,” is key to understanding their achievement here.

It’s always pointless to fall back on “description” of music like this, but what I’m digging on today’s spin is the way these pair martial their forces and manage some interesting collisions and syncopated pile-ups between their perfectly-formed notes…an inherent grasp of dynamics in music, and an intuitive feel for the powerful effect of well-timed silences, seem to inform their every thought and action. It’s not just technique, although they’re no strangers to vibrato and other warmth-inducing strategies; these odd sounds, this compassionate pairing, laced with many strong moments of perfectly conjoined events, all tend to deliver a strong emotional charge for the listener, and you will be compelled to listen to the end of this mysterious journey. I’d hate to use this record as another argument in an ongoing “classical-versus-improvisation” debate (a lemon that’s long since been sucked dry, I suspect), but it’s an exciting and worthwhile achievement.

Looking forward to hearing this duo again, hopefully on Another Timbre or Inexhaustible Editions (hint-hint). From 19th January 2022.