Humcrush Hornswoggle

[Rune Grammofon; 2006]

Styles: electro-jazz, outer-space prog-funk
Others: an ambient Hella, Need New Body, Kieren Hebden and Steve Reid

Rune Grammofon is the Norwegian nu-jazz/modern classical whimsy to ECM’s ambient folk-jazz/modern classical hub. Take that as you will. Their flagship artists -- Supersilent, Deathprod, Jazzkammer -- play the not-quite jazz that seems to understand the use of electronics differently than, say, the very hit-or-miss Blue Series collaborations on Thirsty Ear. Maybe the cold, bleak Nordic light gives the jazztronicers a one-up on their American electro counterparts. Maybe samplers and synthesizers respond with more harshness in extreme winter temperatures. That could be all true, except for that Humcrush only give the impression that they’re an electronics-heavy duo.

Humcrush is made up of Supersilent’s keyboardist Ståle Storløkken and Food’s Thomas Strønen on drums and live electronics. In the entire Rune Grammofon catalog, this is the closest the label’s had to an actual “jazz” album, albeit an ambient, funky one. Strangely, it could also be argued this is the least “jazz” album on Rune. The set-up certainly supports the latter, but as Kieren Hebden and Steve Reid have proven twice already (on the excellent Exchange Sessions), jazz-based electro-acoustic improv (not the Erstwhile-style EAI) has limitless possibilities. Storløkken and Strønen tap into a world where Herbie Hancock’s left the Headhunters for a drummer like Hamid Drake.

On the title track the keyboard lines energetically jump and vibrate like a less absurd Need New Body. The drums are nearly robotic in their concise patterns and are easily mistaken for whatever “live electronics” Strønen employs. I’m going to be cheeky here and say that it takes time to warm up to Hornswoggle. There’s a coldness to the duo’s comprovisations (loosely composed improvisations), which echo some of the same timbres heard in Björk’s inauguration to electro royalty, Vespertine, via Matmos.

On “Cyborg I,” the ghostly keyboard will barely linger above vaguely funky, busy, gamelan-rooted drum work, and once you step away from it, the song opens up in unexpected ways. Muddled tones gain a crystal veneer and suddenly those shadowed keys come outstandingly to the front. It’s a surprising layer to uncover if you let it, and Humcrush achieve such often.

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