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«New Rituals»

«New Rituals» is the most personal project of prolific Norwegian double bass player Christian Meaas Svendsen, leader of the Nakama ensemble, the Nakama musicians collective and founder of the Nakama label«New Rituals» is an intimate-spiritual journey through  ancient Zen Buddhist texts – sutras and chants – that explores-investigates the relation between form and freedom, between modern Western culture and traditional Far Eastern culture, and between written and open – improvised – musical material.

Meaas Svendsen, a novice practitioner of Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, He describes in his insightful liner notes how he found out answers to some of the existential dilemmas of his life in the daily practice, meditation and chanting the sutras. He claims that the «New Rituals» project focus on music that asks about the necessity of form as a means to experience freedom. He offers three challenging yet invigorating answers to this eternal question. This issue, adds Meaas Svendsen, might hold true for music as well as other aspects of our lives.

«New Rituals» is a 3-discs/vinyls project., recorded at Rainbow Studio Oslo in May and October 2017 and January 2018.  The first part brings together the former version of Nakama quintet – vocalist Agnes Hvizdalek, violinist Adrian Løseth Waade (both already left Nakama), pianist Ayumi Tanaka, drummer Andreas Wildhagen and Meaas Svendsen with a choir of members of the Rinzai Zen Center Oslo. Nakama charges the powerful, dramatic but also deeply meditative chanting of the seminal sutras – Lotus and Heart Sutras, as well as shorter chants – with subtle rhythmic framework that deepens the essential, ritualist spirit of this centuries old, spiritual practice. Hvizdalek’s idiosyncratic vocal artistry adds a delicate, subversive layer to this ceremonial chanting, demonstrating in true Zen spirit how any kind of experience is bound – and open – to countless, continuous changes.

The second part presents the Nakama ensemble distilling the same 10 sutras and chants into its own experimental, sonic prism amd already established aesthetics. Hvizdalek transforming-referencing lightly the rhythmic syllables of the ancient Buddhist texts into her personal vocal techniques. Tanaka, with her imaginative playing inside the piano and its strings, provides the rhythmic gravity; Wildhagen intensifies her ideas with exact cymbals work, while Løseth Waade and Meaas Svendsen expand the minimalist sonic spectrum with modest, resonating bowing work. The constant play of the ensemble with conflicting blocks of sounds and silent segments brings to mind  the seminal works of John Cage, himself a Zen Buddhism practitioner.

The third part suggests an even deeper abstraction of the ancient sutras and chants, this time for solo double bass of Meaas Svendsen who also chants some of these texts.  His playing is often very physical, with all his body embracing the bass, sometimes even playing with his teeth and bare feet, but here his playing sounds philosophical, naked, sometimes totally possessed by the powerful, ceremonial spirit of the chants . Meaas Svendsen experiences the sonic essence of these sacred texts as a vibration that not only moves himself, the improvising musician, or the bass strings and its wooden body but vibrates-challenges the form of the musical textures themselves. By becoming one with this profound, resonating vibration (and its highly meditative overtones) he may find a deeper, liberating realization about what freedom is.

Brilliant, moving «New Rituals», that don’t let our «religion short circuit our religious experience», as Joseph Campbell so aptly put it.

Eyal Hareuveni 

Agnes Hvizdalek (v), Adrian Løseth Waade (vio), Ayumi Tanaka (p), Andreas Wildhagen (dr), Christian Meaas Svendsen (b, v), Choir: Peter Davami (lead singer), Kreg Viesselman (Mokugyo dr), Karoline Ruderaas Albrigtsen, Susanne Monka, Kjetil Jerve, Hilmar Fredriksen, Petter Lohne, Aris Kaloudis, Pål Jakob Walstad, Caroline Jacobsen, Leni Torvbråten, Anne Rolfsen, Nora Kremer, Aleksandra M. Søderlind 

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