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Rhizome documents the first-ever, free improvised album of American cellist Daniel Levin with Portuguese pianist Rodrigo Pinheiro and double bass player Hernâni Faustino (two-thirds of the legendary RED Trio and collaborating in Clocks and Clouds and in José Lencastre Nau Quartet), recorded at Timbuktu Studio in Lisbon in October 2022. Art critic Art Lange invites us to employ the botanical term rhizome within the philosophical framework of French thinkers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and to describe historical and cultural networks of information and communication that may derive from multiple, non-hierarchical sources of influence or attraction with no predetermined organization or unifying coherency.

And, indeed, it is tempting to think about this intimate, chamber album, recorded after a live trio performance, in such elaborate philosophical terms. But, first and foremost is about deep listening of experienced, idiosyncratic improvisers, playing with emphatic yet unpredictable dynamics and with total freedom of the music making that is based upon the acceptance of form as an intuitive, immediate shaping of details. «Rhizome», by the way, is also the title of a piece in the duo album of Levin and violist Mat Maneri, The Transcendent Function (Clean Feed, 2015). This trio takes its time while exploring contrasting aspects of subtle, lyrical textures, including microtonality, dissonance, juxtaposition and counterpoint, using silence and space as essential elements in the music. And to borrow again from Guattari, it does so not by formalizing its interplay «on the basis of a logical or mathematical metalanguage». Its interplay is democratic, patient and calm, organic and almost ethereal, economic yet poetic, suggesting its own logic of continuity as discovery, and its own syntax and language. And Lange adds, this adventure confronts this trio to provide questions rather than answers, and he quotes Spanish cubist painter Juan Gris: «You are lost the instant you know what the result will be».

Levin met Swiss, North Carlina-based sax player-composer-sound artist Laurent Estoppey while arranging the Sanctuary Series performances in his living room during the Covid-19 lockdowns when most of the venues canceled the concerts. His friend, pianist Jil Christensen, suggested that he would ask Estoppey to perform. Estoppey has collaborated before with such innovative improvisers as Jacques Demierre, Pierre Favre, Pierre Audétat, Urs Leimgruber and Fritz Hauser and now teaches classic saxophone repertoire and transcriptions of baroque music.

Levin was so excited by Estoppey’s virtuosity, his palette of sounds and timbres, his rhythmic sense, and his incredible commitment to seeing ideas through, that he immediately felt that he wanted to collaborate with him. SUMAC was recorded a few months later in the same space, in one afternoon and a few days after Estoppey got the news that his mother-in-law was living her very last moments. He maintained the session and headed to the airport immediately afterwards, to address this music to her and her husband, a cello player and conductor. Clearly, this tragic and emotional circumstance is embedded in SUMAC. Levin and Estoppey like to explore the unknown, on their own accord, and in their own eccentric and adventurous ways, obviously, employing an array of extended breathing and bowing techniques. The atmosphere is intimate, quiet and melancholic but attentive to every nuance, and it is much more sound-oriented than Rhizome. Levin and Estoppey weave their rich but unconventional palette of sounds into enigmatic, loose textures, complementing each other’s ideas with game-like tricks, extreme sensibility and free imagination.

Eyal Hareuveni

Daniel Levin (cello), Rodrigo Pinheiro (piano), Hernâni Faustino (double bass), Laurent Estoppey (saxophone)