Mar 2 2013
Field Day Rituals, the newest release by ambient drone jazz artists Splashgirl, is unlikely to dispel any of the prevailing debate over whether this music is actually Jazz. There are certain artists and ensembles which serve as precipices into the argumentative void of “What is Jazz” and “Where is it going?” The Splashgirl ensemble certainly qualifies as such.
A mix of Nordic Jazz, ambient drone, and moody post-rock, the group doesn’t sound like a typical Jazz piano trio. They really don’t sound like anything typical at all, instead appear to have carved out a tiny little niche in the music landscape that they alone abide. They’re definitely something different. And that they appear to have constructed a unique sound all unto themselves, it’s an achievement that deserves recognition. The fact that they also manage to create highly engaging and enjoyable albums means they’ll get a write-up on Bird is the Worm.
Your album personnel: Andreas Stensland Løwe (piano, keyboards), Jo Berger Myhre (double bass), Andreas Lønmo Knudsrød (drums, percussion), and guest: Eyvind Kang (viola) and Timothy Mason (modular synth).
Most tracks start with piano at the point, and leading out with bundles of pensive notes. Opening track “Long Story” does just that. Lowe’s piano takes a somber tone, while Knudsrod’s drums adopt a staccato cadence… little bursts of rhythm occasionally offset by short drifting sections.
There is something genuinely disarming about the way piano opens up album tracks. Even on a song like title-track “Field Day Rituals,” which presents an ominous vibe throughout, the piano doesn’t provide a contrast to it so much as imbues it with a distant warmth.
I see the phrase Doom Jazz thrown around a lot when referencing Splashgirl. I get it. I understand why that phrase is used. In the short span of the review, I’ve already used words like ‘ominous’ and ‘pensive’ and ‘somber.’ But doom jazz just doesn’t fit. Any music that has Doom as its primary characteristic is going to be one bereft of hope, absent of an embraceable warmth. That’s not the case with Splashgirl’s music.
Take a track like “Dulcimer.” Yes, it possesses a dramatic bombast. And, yes, there are seriously dark overtones to the song. But just how a thick fog is an inauspicious symbol of bad things to come, there is something undeniably comforting when surrounded by it, swaddled in its ethereal midst. That’s what you get with Splashgirl. Its personality of doom is only a posture experienced from a distance, but when one is immersed in the music, it possesses an endearing snugness easy to warm to.
While many tracks bring dramatic surges of sound and force, some apply a softer touch. “All the Vowels Missing” has a dreamy persona. Thoughtful piano notes create repetitive patterns with bass and drums. And “I Feel Like I Know Here” has the casual drip of piano notes sidled up against some pleasant brush work on drums, though it’s how Myhre’s bass notes come bubbling up to the surface that makes the tune a little more special.
Violist Eyvind Kang makes a guest appearance on a few tracks. His inclusion on this album was an inspired choice. Kang’s violin has lent an alien warmth to the spooky jazz of Bill Frisell on several recordings. On tracks like “Dulcimer” and “Mass,” Kang’s viola brings an element of density to the music, of a weighty substance that is, simultaneously, emitting the soaring freedom stringed instrument are so capable of eliciting. Like viewing a giant bird in graceful flight overhead, covering great speeds with slow ponderous flaps of wings, Kang adds a texture to this music that binds the piano trio’s drifting elements into a cohesiveness far easier to grasp, far simpler to embrace.
Timothy Mason guests on a couple tracks on synths. The electronic effects add a spacey sheen to the music, a texture that doesn’t launch it into Bladerunner soundtrack territory or anything, but one that does definitely add some additional color to the music’s prevailing smokiness.
Field Day Rituals is a bit of a emotional shift from their prior album, 2011’s Pressure. Whereas Pressure had all of the dramatic flair of Field Day Rituals, it came at the listener with a more dynamic presence, one which crackled with life and lightness within a gloomy subset. Field Day Rituals adopts a brooding mien of a weightier attitude. I think it’s informative to the legitimacy of Splashgirl’s music vision that they are able to offer alternate views of their music without needing to abandon their established sound.
I can’t help but already look forward to where there next recording takes them.
Released on the Hubro Music label.
Jazz from the Oslo, Norway scene.
You can read my review of Splashgirl’s 2011 release Pressure, HERE, at Music is Good. The format on the review is the same as I post on BitW… embedded audio, links to artist and retail sites, and all the wisdom and pith you’ve come to expect from me on my own site.