label: jazzland 2002
They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but in this case it's inevitable. You're faced with a vision of subterranean neon lit architecture embraced by subtle digital shading from grey to white. Very cool, very Scandinavian. But before you run off muttering stuff about "icy fjords" under your breath, remember that every once in a while you do find that perfect opus that combines cool with warm, chic with groovy and, dare I say it, jazz with new. For this is no ice-locked stately ship of sorrows, but a vibrant arctic blizzard, bursting with flurries of sonic invention.
Aarset's Electronique Noire have taken up the baton passed by fellow artists such as Bugge Wesseltoft, Nils Petter Molvær and others involved in the Norwegian jazz electronica underground. The results are stunning. Stylistically this album sits nearer to Molvaer'srecent attempts at fusing Drum'n'Bass with Hasselesque tone poems, than to Aarset's last outing: the eponymous Electronique Noir. The more Milesian fusion tendencies and heavy rock histrionics have been almost entirely exorcised in favour of forms that fit more snugly into the amorphous world of today's electronic pioneers. As Molvaer's Solid Ether (which featured Aarset) proved last year, jazz of the ECM school could break out of its polite restraints and plug itself into something more contemporary. This album, on Wesseltoft's Jazzland imprint, carries that promise to the next level. Breakbeats collide with glitchy little loops and every once in a while the whole thing erupts with a sonic squall to equal the most intense Ornette or Miles. "Self Defence" sounds like digital warfare, and "ffwd/slow motion" shows you where Roni Size would be today if he had a true jazzer's sense of dynamics.
Like Electronique Noire, there remains a sense of 21st century alienation and despair in these grooves, with their clattering rhythm and ominous bass clarinet interjections (from Hans Ulrik); but these are always matched by an aching harmonic beauty. The opener "Emphatic Guitar" with its gently pulsing chord figure has an almost somnambulant vibe, gently cross-fading into the skittish "Wolf Extract", wherein Aarset, having lulled you into a false sense of security proceeds to connect you to a world where nothing sleeps and time zones melt into the ether. Arabic drones mix with junglist rhythms while Aarset rarely takes a solo where a denser wash of noise will do just as well. His tones vary from sheets of fiery pain to Hank Marvin-inspired twang in the space of one number ("String Thing").
This is true music for airports, motorways and car parks: edgy, with a sense of utterly modern momentum that propels you to the calm finality of the closer "Tunnel Church". Peace is finally attained: But at what price? Aarset asks so many questions within the space of eight tracks, that you cannot help but feel as though the answers will be a long time coming. This is not comfortable listening, but you will find a comfort of sorts within its glacial heart. Mesmerising.
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