Recommended: Friensemblet – “El Aaiun – Across The Border”


Mathilde Grooss Viddal - "El Aaiun Across the Border"Recorded live at Vossajazz 2013, Friensemblet, a large ensemble headed up by Mathilde Grooss Viddal presents El Aaiun – Across the Border.  A free jazz ensemble performance at its heart, the music not only springs from the creative well of pure improvisation, but the influences and jazz sub-genres it touches upon elicits a traveler’s sense of adventure.  It also makes for one of the more thrilling albums of 2014.

Opening track “Night Song” has the moody disposition of a Nordic Jazz tune.  The comforting toll of vibes, the wistful melodic sighs of wind instruments, the rattle of percussion… it’s a touch of old school ECM Records, of folk and jazz in a mesmerizing synthesis, of Don Cherry’s heartbreaking cries on Dona Nostra.  It’s a tribute to the art of dreaming.

“Morning Song” is its opposite.  After an introduction that carries forward the end of the previous track, the ensemble employs the same mournful melodic phrase at the jumping off point for a wind sprint finish.  The rhythm unit of vibes, drums and percussion develop a riveting chatter while wind instruments continue to build the original melody skyward as guitar snarls below.  It’s the way in which the motion of the music becomes both increasingly free and increasingly catchy that qualifies as its most arresting feature.

An appealing dissonance of percussion, strings and electronics open “Diagnossisten.”  The sizzle and blip gradually gives way to wind instruments digging tenaciously into a groove and then jumping in and dancing playfully about, a potent mix of ferocity and whimsy.  It’s a similar start to “Kali & Vossavatn,” but this time the ensemble go roaming far and wide.  A Hardanger fiddle cries out a folk tune, a gaggle of voices engage in word play, percussion hits upon a vein of Indian music, wind instruments howl melodies from the top of a Norwegian mountain range, and then, with a deft sense of spontaneous coordination, they begin switching roles, places, and poetry.

The title-track ends the album with its biggest show of adventurism.  A low drone and a high sigh like the wind whistling through a low valley.  A chant.  It’s a spiritual moment that recalls Alice Coltrane’s unguarded soul-on-the-sleeve work of the early 1970s.  The drone becomes a murmur, the darting motion of flute, the slow groove of drums, the growl of wind instruments making their presence increasingly felt.  And then a melody breaks from the fold, revealing the Indo-jazz tune at the heart of the matter.  This, too, shifts influence, as trumpet carries it from jazz back to folk, where strings and flute leverage their weight.  The song ends with thick harmonies decaying at the edges and shouting up to the heavens… the same wild abandon and boundless creativity that typify this excellent recording.

Your album personnel:  Mathilde Grooss Viddal (soprano & tenor saxes, bass clarinet), Safaa Al-Saadi (darbouka, nay, vocal), Britt Pernille Frøholm (Hardanger fiddle, violin), Tellef Kvifte (laptop, electronics, keyboard), Dag Stiberg (alto sax), Gunnar Halle (trumpet), Per Willy Aaserud (trumpet, electronics), Øyvind Brække (trombone), Knut Kvifte Nasheim (vibraphone, percussion), Siv Øyunn Kjenstad (drums) and Ellen Andrea Wang (double bass).

Released on Viddal’s Giraffa Records label.

Cool cover art by Brita Dagestad.

Jazz from the Oslo scene.

Available at:  Bandcamp | eMusic | Amazon MP3