Thursday, April 26, 2018

CD Review: Gunhild Seim/Marilyn Crispell/David Rothenberg - Grenseland

Gunhild Seim/Marilyn Crispell/David Rothenberg

"I feel like you can hear us wondering about the world." - Gunhild Seim, talking about this album, on her blog.

Spring is arriving in Pittsburgh late, in fits and starts at that. If the belated start of this season needed a soundtrack (or some sort of sonic motivation), it could be found in the title of track of this set of performances by trumpeter Gunhild Seim, pianist Marilyn Crispell and clarinetist/bass clarinetist David Rothenberg. Seim and Rothenberg also use electronics throughout the album, which accounts for the bird-like chirps that accompany Seim's long tones, which initially sound like a shakuhachi. A bass note drones beneath while Crispell (credited with percussion) clicks sticks in the background. She plays a few pensive chords too, just to add to the ambiance. After nearly six minutes, Rothenberg picks up his bass clarinet, joining Seim with his own morning call. The whole 10-minute track comes across like sunrise on a marsh, with calls of birds not exactly blending together but creating a full song regardless.

Crispell and Rothenberg released an album of engaging duets on ECM in 2010, One Dark Night I Left My Silent House. The pianist played both her standard instrument and a piano soundboard that was in the studio, which provided percussive scrapes and drones. Rothenberg switched between Bb clarinet and bass clarinet, expressive on both.

One Dark Night worked like a set of conversations but Grenseland sounds more like three people getting to know each other. (Seim implies in the blog entry that she knew Crispell but was only introduced to Rothenberg prior to the session.) Her observation at the top of this page proves to be pretty accurate. As a result, there is a tentative feeling to many of the tracks. In fact, Crispell doesn't play piano in earnest (as opposed to fits and starts) until the fourth track. Prior to that, she adds percussion and, in "Tundra" she sings over a drone, while more electronic "birds" join her in the background. Her vocalizing adds color to the mood, and offers a surprise to any longtime listeners curious to hear her. But there is still a lingering desire for more piano.

Seim, a Norwegian composer and trumpet player who already has a sizable discography, stands forward throughout the album. Her strong tone and uncomplicated lines recall Wadada Leo Smith (if not Miles Davis, thanks to the inclusion of electronics). Although she and her friends take their time getting to know each other, the two tracks that follow "Grenseland" take things forward a great deal, especially "Lines and Angles" where the bass clarinet and trumpet really coalesce and move together.

Grenseland sits in that unique realm between free improvisation and ambient music. Sometimes one note creates a page of depth, while at other times it could use some support. In this case, the music ponders what the next meeting of these three minds will yield.

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