The two years since avant guitarist Aarset's last opus, Light Extracts, have been filled with several major shifts in direction. Up until now (at least outside his native Norway), his name's been, err, connected mainly with jazz 'n' bass trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer. Yet, apart from last year's triumphant appearance with Molvaer at the ICA (performing a live soundtrack to Lang's Metropolis), he's been using new, younger collaborators to push his work in fresh directions. Connected bears the fruits of those endeavours.
Two key names in the aforementioned change in direction have been Dhafer Youssef, the Parisian-based singer and oud player on whose album Digital Prophecy he made a major contribution, and fellow Norwegian electronica man-of-the-moment, Jan Bang. It's the latter who makes the biggest impact on Aarset's sound here. While only appearing on a couple of tracks, both his and fellow boffin Raymond Pellicer's digital trickery have led Aarset to tone down his dance-oriented leanings and get a whole lot more subtle in his approach.
Whereas Light Extractstook you from vertiginous loops to sheer noise terror, Connected's delights emerge in the details. Glitchy wobbles and shimmies worry at the periphery while Aarset's guitar, rather than screaming for attention, morphs from spy-movie twang ("Connectic") to muezzin call allowing both bass and drums (courtesy of Marius Reksjo and Wetle Holte) to explore the groove, or giving way to the delights of Hans Ulrik's bass clarinet ("Electro Magnetic in E") and saxophone ("Feverish").
Eivind moves in both directions away from the nu-jazz cul de sac that also pigeonholes Molvaer. He does this by embracing both electronica ("Family Pictures 1 & 2"), and returning to more traditional jazz and blues forms. "Blue In E" is a lovely study in string-bending ease while stand-out track "Silk Worm" takes label boss Bugge Wesseltoft's funky template and adds Aarset's own distinctive, yearning bleakness. In between all this there's still time to pay respect to world fusion (with Dhafer Youssef on "Nagabo Tomora") and the usual beaty mash-ups that we've come to expect from our Scanadinavian friends.
In doing this the guitarist transcends any preconceptions thatthe instrument comes burdened with, and has given us a work that soothes, upsets and excites in equal proportions. Yet again, it seems as though Jazzland is living up to its boast of giving us a new conception in jazz. Matched only by Rune Grammofon's stable of Norwegian young guns, Aarset, along with labelmates Sidsel Endreson, Wesseltoft and Audun Kleive is making sure that all eyes (and ears)remain firmly fixed on the north. Essential.
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