July 6, 2020
Jan Martin Smørdal
Choosing to Sing
This is an appealing if somewhat frustrating session on which 10 Norwegian instrumentalists choose not to sing when interpreting eight compositions by Jan Martin Smørdal. Smørdal, who has been associated with innovators such as Phil Niblock and Oren Ambarchi, expressly wrote these miniatures for trumpeter Eivind Lønning and Ensemble neoN, the cross-genre chamber group. The composer/arranger, who plays sinus tone, piano and guitar on different tracks here, has been associated with the ensemble since its beginnings in 2008.
Overall, the program is appealing because it gives the 10 players an opportunity to show off their breath of expression in various combinations. But it’s frustrating because Smørdal’s concentrated group compositions don’t allow much individual freedom and at points thoroughly mask individual instruments’ sonic identity.
With overhanging whistles, fluctuating oscillating tones, slurping echoes and ersatz bird calls, the result is somewhat claustrophobic, encompassing repetitive motifs and nearly every measure crammed to capacity. It’s only by the third track appropriately titled “Response”, which the massed creation pulls back enough to highlight piano glissandi, goblet drum echoes and mooing reed airs. Bouncing ball-like percussion and spiccato string snaps subsequently come in-and-out of aural focus in later tracks. Yet even with frog-tapped pressurized string popping on the final “Call, But Response” a unique impression isn’t defined. What remains is how with the condensed “Call II” and the following lengthy “React II”, accelerating reed and flute vibrations plus seeming unstoppable drones create tone variations that are only resolved on the second track. While the result is percussive and polyphonic no matter the number of col legno string refractions, wood smacks and idiophone-like cracks the result seems more like designated program completion than thought out creativity.
Track Listing: 1. React^ 2. Choosing To Sing I 3. Response* 4. Call I 5. Choosing To Sing II# 6. Call II 7. React II 8. Call, But Response
Personnel: Eivind Lønning (trumpet); Yuri Marakami (flute, bass flute); Kristine Tjøersen (bass clarinet); Ida Kristine Zimmerman Olsen (alto saxophone); Heloise Amaral (piano); Karin Hellqvist (violin); Tove Margethe Erikstad Falkenberg, Inga Byrkjeland (cello); Ane Marthe Sørkien Holen (12-string guitar); Jan Martin Smørdal (sinus tone^, piano*, guitar#)