Jozef van Wissem The Joy that Never Ends

[Important; 2011]

Styles: minimalism, contemporary early music
Others: Vincent Le Masne/Bertrand Porquet, Tetuzi Akiyama, James Blackshaw

Dutch-born and New York-based lutenist Jozef Van Wissem is a rare breed of contemporary musician-composer whose work transcends the perceived boundaries of early music, minimalism, and folk traditions toward something quite unique. His compositions have subverted fellow practitioners of early European lute music, rearranging and using collage to add his own curious stamp to preexisting musical forms, as well as employing taped field recordings, electro-acoustic devices, overdubs, and working with improvisers (including guitarist Tetuzi Akiyama and visionary figure Keiji Haino). Whereas his first disc for Important (2010’s Ex Patris) was fairly unadorned, on The Joy that Never Ends he’s joined on six original, layered compositions by vocalist Jeanne Madic and the feedback constructions of Jim Jarmusch (yes, that one). In modern music there are precedents — somewhat, anyway — for van Wissem’s work, like the multivalent and lush minimal anthems of the French duo of guitarists Vincent Le Masne and Bertrand Porquet, who were also quite heavily influenced by the harmonies of early string music.

The opening title track features cyclical motions set against harmonic flecks, giving a decidedly strong beat to van Wissem’s ornate variations. Madic recites the texts of Anglican mystic Julian of Norwich’s Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love in a breathy, slightly seductive alto, which grants the piece an affinity, however slight, for darkwave confection. “His is the Ecstasy” is bright and moves through simple, somewhat puckered chord cycles, following each melodic passage with an upturned accent that gives the music an interesting rhythmic stutter. There is logic to the cyclical movements here, but parsing each would be a rather pointless exercise — van Wissem’s music creates a field of light dissonances, a constant and delicate pelt of notes and gently didactic rhythms. His brand of minimalism is a certain ancillary to the music of Terry Riley and Philip Glass, but with the severity stripped away to leave bare sonic offerings. “Concerning the Precise Nature of Truth” features Jarmusch’s feedback as uneasy shading behind the strums of a bright, slow near-waltz.

The disc’s centerpiece is the 16-minute “The Hearts of the Daughters are Returned to their Mothers,” which seems to utilize overdubs in its quest for a crisply intense contemporary European raga. Glassy, ringing strums and interlocking filigree are bolstered by a sinewy vamp and create a chant-driven fantasia analogous to an early Renaissance take on Six Organs of Admittance. The piece closes with Madic’s recitation, but the moments leading up to it are what counts. The Joy that Never Ends is a stunning album, ornate yet utterly simple, and it continues Jozef van Wissem’s fascinating self-made tradition.

Links: Jozef van Wissem - Important

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