Arve Henriksen Chiaroscuro

[Rune Grammofon; 2004]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: avant-garde jazz, experimental, modern composition
Others: Supersilent, Philip Glass, Zbigniew Preisner

Norway's Arve Henriksen is a classically trained musician/composer whose highly prolific output has included work with the ensembles Supersilent and Food, as well as a variety of other, mostly Scandinavian, collaborations and solo projects. Henriksen's most recent effort, Chiaroscuro, is a subdued electronic album that is one part abstract jazz, one part minimalistic avant-garde, and another part modern classical composition. Furthermore, it comes across as a deliberate retreat from the intensity of Henriksen's work with Supersilent.

Despite the frequently cold, distinctively Scandinavian feel to the music on Chiaroscuro, the pieces presented here are infused with instrumentation that contributes to them a somewhat generically uplifting, "ethnic" vibe; not unlike Peter Gabriel's Passion. Despite its apparently self-conscious attempt to flout its Eastern influence, however, many of the album's tracks are, in fact, deeply rooted in traditional Japanese and, I believe, Balinese music. Henriksen's primary instrument is the trumpet, and on Chiaroscuro, he plays the instrument in such a way as to mimic the Japanese shakuhachi and other Far Eastern woodwind instruments while still adhering to a vaguely free jazz sensibility. In fact, Henriksen's brass playing on a great deal of the album is almost unrecognizable as such.

Chiaroscuro, measured against Henriksen's work with Supersilent, is comparatively spare. Most of the pieces feature Henriksen's trumpet playing backed with minimal accompaniment. One of the album's interesting idiosyncrasies is that frequently the pieces on Chiaroscuro are augmented with a backdrop of white noise, as if they were recorded in a factory or an office building. Radiator sounds, forced air ambience, and nondescript electric humming are buried deep beneath the surface of these tracks. The track "Holography," for example, pits Henriksen's trumpet playing against a smattering of minimal turntablistic needle noise.

A chief complaint about the album, I suppose, is that, despite the pseudo-spiritual nature of Henriksen's vocals, they frequently distract the listener from the music that is being played. The wordless vocals by Henriksen can, unfortunately, be somewhat cloying at times. This is not to say, however, that Chiaroscuro is by any means an unpleasant album. The problem, perhaps, is that it is too pleasant. Periodically, throughout the album, Henriksen allows us to get a glimpse of Nordic darkness, but for the most part, this is an uplifting and reasonably innocuous record devoid of any real resonance to this listener's ears.

1. Opening Image
2. Bird's-Eye-View
3. Chiaro
4. Holography
5. Blue Silk
6. Parallel Action
7. Circled Take
8. Scuro
9. Time Lapse
10. Ending Image

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