January 18, 2008
Eivind Aarset - Sonic Codex (2007)
"Sonic Codex", the forth Jazzland album by Eivind Aarset, is perhaps the strongest album he has produced so far. This is no mean achievement, considering his debut as a bandleader, "Electronique Noire" was hailed by The New York Times as "one of the best Post-Miles electric jazz albums". That album's successors, "Light Extracts" and "Connected", also met with equally effusive comments from critics of many backgrounds, not just jazz. The album "Connected" gave the first clue to Aarset’s long-term goal of creating a truly unified body of work. "Sonic Codex" takes that concept, restates, elaborates, and then amplifies it to create a true masterwork that may well be a defining moment in both Aarset's career and the history of Jazzland.
Beginning with "Sign of Seven", Aarset ventures along a primitive melodic path laid out on log drum, before primordial forest breaks open into urban jungle, full of glitches and all manner of guitars and layers of Hans Ulrik's clarinets.
Ulrik follows through to "Quicksilver Dream", a track that shimmers with an ambient trippiness, yet also has a very clear intention to move to somewhere, not pace in repetitive circles.
"Drøbak Saray" is a soundtrack for a hot day in a space age Souk, like Terje Rypdal's guitar lost in William S. Burrough's Tangiers, both languid and tense in its movement.
"Cameo" presents a very different kind of music, more obviously adhering to a compositional form than the previous tracks, yet retaining a feeling of spontaneity that is common to the best jazz.
"Still Changing" presents further experimentation by Aarset on the genetics originally grown on Light Extract's "Empathic Guitar", and then spliced and recomposed on "Connected" as "Changing Waltz", this time with the addition of Tor Egil Kreken's banjo. The music becomes increasingly vast in its scope as the track progresses, before retuning to its original theme.
"Black Noise/White Silence" erupts, hissing and spitting, kicking and biting, like a series of spasms, before seizing control of itself, like a caged lion that has never been tamed.
"Family Pictures III" is yet another deliberate throwback, this time directly to "Connected," and with the two namesake pieces from that album makes a perfect triptych of three different views of a single sonic landscape.
"Sleeps with Fishes" uses the musical vocabulary found on tracks such as "The String Thing", but this time that twang that might accompany a James Bond or a nameless spaghetti western gunslinger has taken root in an aquatic world of sleeping, dreaming night.
"Return of Black Noise" is an echo from within the album itself, coming as a more direct, abbreviated version of "Black Noise/White Silence" - like a postmodern "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)". It merges seamlessly with "Murky Lambada", which stands at the end of the album like a colossus. Initially sounding like a not-too-distant cousin of "Sign of Seven" with its tribal percussion, the lambada blurrily refocuses to reveal a deep and misty soundscape with its own textures, peaks and valleys, before exiting behind through veil of ambient hum and plinking kalimba, bringing the album cyclically to its beginning.
Throughout the varied textures and structures, Aarset's guitar provides constant interest, sometimes behaving as a narrator helping through densely layered textural structures, sometimes behaving like a carefully camouflaged animal, barely perceptible against a driving backbeat. As with the rest of his work, he demonstrates how the electronic and the acoustic can co-exist, each integrating and absorbing the other, not merely occupying the same space. He has created his own sonic world, and he continues not just to explore it, but also to chronicle it with an unerring ear for the right details, and a full understanding of how those details make up a much larger whole.
The album's title is a perfect summary of its hour-long contents: it is a Sonic Codex. It puts forward Aarset's rules of engagement with the listener, and very deliberately quotes and redefines the musicality that made up his previous three albums, "Electronique Noire", "Light Extracts", and "Connected", yet also points his way forward; it is an innovative present that simultaneously summarises the past, and predicts the future.
Like what you hear, buy it! And support the artists that really need it.