Dec 1 2012
The Something Different review series highlights albums that are unlike anything else, and which embrace the best qualities of creative vision.
I ran into Seval‘s 2 while going through one of my weekly scouring sessions of the jazz new releases section. It’s the second release by this avant-garde quintet. Their first, I Know You, released in 2011, either got past me or didn’t catch my ear. But their new album grabbed my attention, and I made it a Jazz Pick for my weekly eMusic column from 10/17/12. In the brief synopsis, I describe the album as “Beautiful, and moody as hell.”
It’s a different kind of beauty. This is not a pretty album. It’s not the kind of music that will be splendid accompaniment for watching sunsets or playing on the iPod as you walk through the countryside. This is the kind of beauty that emanates from within, when a creative piece shines with originality, confidence, technique, and inspiration. Not unlike the effect of watching astronauts hurtle out into space, art has an inherent ability to remind us of the heights to which humanity may aspire to and achieve.
These musicians are all part of the Swedish new music & free improv scene. Cellist Lonberg-Holm has an exceptionally wide variety of music attached to his name. Aside from his own admirable discography, he’s a member of free jazz groups Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Tentet, Vandemark 5, and Valentine Trio (w/Frank Rosaly and Jason Roebke). He’s also been a part of modern jazz group Keefe Jackson’s Fast Citizens, ambient post-rock group Boxhead Ensemble, and indie-rockers Wilco. Even within those groups’ particular genres/circles, they are outliers for the most part. So, here you’ve got a musician, Lonberg-Holm, who’s cut his teeth with a disparate group of disparate groups. Or said better, Longberg-Holm almost specializes in strange and engaging music.
Seval’s 2 is an intriguing mix of avant-garde and pop music that weights heavier to the former. These are haunting tunes that stretch out to the fringes of sound, while simultaneously reaching inward to the center of things. Catchy melodies of sing-song lightness are hybridized with the frenetic gruffles of trumpet blasts and industrial-strength cello. Sometimes that script is flipped, and Julesberg’s vocals become guttural utterances and a steel-stringed guitar bounces cheerfully along to an equally chipper bass line.
And that script gets flipped often, even within the same song. “Revolution Song” has Julesberg delivering the melody, conversely, with a lovely sweetness and at times as a growled call to arms. The pop-rock opening begins to careen out of control, using the opening melody as the catapult to wilder territory. The thrilling part of this song is the method which sudden leaps into dissonance and chaos have equally sudden transitions back to beautiful restatements of melody. It gives all the interludes of improvisation a sense of purpose and cohesion by tethering themselves to their melodic hometown.
Album opener “Children Of Monsters” has Julesberg offering up a wispy lullaby to a humming cello and shimmering guitar. Trumpet solos soft and patiently. Bass provides the shadows.
On “Details,” Julesberg and Longberg-Holm open with the heart of a love song, but their occasional flirtations with warped notes imply that the pop center might not hold.
“Light Brush” is audio taffy, with a sugary blitheness to its set-up, and wildly careening passages in the development. The song gets increasingly warped and twisted before ending with a brief return from whence it began.
“Boredom and Bliss” begins with a low rattle and hum. Trumpet twitters nervously and Julesberg is specterally ominous. This song isn’t haunting… it’s just plain haunted. And as it drifts off like a ghosts, the album transitions immediately to the amicable pitter-patter of Julesberg’s vocals on “Only One,” which has an Elliot Smith somberness, undercut by the caustic picking of Stakenas on guitar. Trumpet harmonizes with Julesberg as she ascends up on the register and forgoes words for animalistic sounds. Trumpet matches her tone. Cello and bass subversively instigate faster tempos. And then guitar, which was the original culprit in steering this song into avant-garde territory, becomes the peacemaker, offering up a kinder, gentler face. The song wraps up with a marching cadence before ending as it began, but with greater volume and fanfare.
As with all of the albums I review in my Something Different series, this won’t be music for everybody, but everyone should give it the opportunity to connect. It’s the kind of music that won’t have mass appeal, but will likely inspire some passionate reactions from some listeners. It’s the kind of music that leaves its mark.
Released on the 482 Music label.
Lonberg-Holm is from Chicago, but the rest of the group is part of the Stockholm, Sweden music scene.