Duplex is the duo of saxophonist Harald Lassen and bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen. Their modus operandi is to lay the peacefulness on thick while letting a quirky personality slip out to keep things interesting. They’ve released a couple albums I’ve mentioned previously both here on Bird is the Worm and also my columns for eMusic’s 17 Dots and Wondering Sound. Despite my rather busy listening schedule, I still find time to return to their recordings… so I figured I’d give them a brief mention here in a column.
Duplex – Duolia
Their 2013 release Duolia gets right to the heart of their music. The environment is one in which serenity should, and often does, thrive, and yet, Duplex create undercurrents of tension and dissonance that resonate quite strongly without shattering the prevailing tranquility that the duo maintain throughout.
Tracks like “Smukt” and “Mantra” emit a shaky peacefulness, often presenting a soothing exterior, but in the case of the former, the suddenness of certain phrasings creates a sense of unease… which in the latter is brought about with sharp rises in volume and volatility.
But essential to the music of Duplex is the way they choose to build that prevailing tranquility. Tracks like “Siste Reise” and “Veslola” have a solemn presence made for the sunrises of Sunday mornings, for those quiet moments when the whole world enters a collective hush. Even when the latter track grows slightly agitated, the serenity abides.
The duo slip in some additions to the sax-bass mix from time to time. For instance, on the captivating “Matona,” m’bira is the perfect match for bass arco, and the occasional vocal chant adds both melodic and rhythmic textures without disrupting the state of equilibrium. This, too, with the addition of vibraphone on “Wayne.” Ultimately, these added ingredients simply cause the ripples in the lake to shine beneath the sunlight with an even greater brilliance.
Duplex – Én
Duplex’s 2015 release Én doesn’t present a radical change from Duolia, but it does accentuate the solemn qualities of their music over the unsettling undercurrent of tension. More than before, this is laid-back music for early Sunday mornings. This shift is bolstered by the addition of guest musicians Emilie Lidhseim on violin and Sverre Kyvik Bauge on cello.
The melody of “Kiirohige” is bathed in lovely, harmonic warmth. “Lojal” shows that their quirky nature isn’t going away just because the face of their serenity has been altered. Little melodic bursts blossom from out of the silences, sax and bass trading tiny expressions that eventually merge into a united whole. “Sentient” is a rare sense of urgency, as the cries of saxophone cut through the steady, ominous pulse from bass.
Where they only flirted with it previously, this time around, the duo show a greater commitment to vocal contributions. A track like “You Are Enough” goes for the choral harmonies and the bright tones. When accompanied by the deep hum of saxophone, the play on light and dark has a certain appeal. Other vocal tracks have an off-the-cuff ease about them, as if sung boozily over the last of the whiskey in the bottom of the glass. The wavering bass notes of “City Lights” provide a nifty icy chill to accompany the warmth from the vocals. Overall, it’s a nice thing to experience familiar creative facets but with a change in emphasis… a sense of something old, something new.
Both albums released on NORCD.
Listen to more of Duplex’s music on their Soundcloud page.