REVIEW: ‘Epik, Didaktik, Pastoral’ – Samuel Hällkvist

‘EPIK’ IS THE WORD – but then, that’s the distinctive landscape which Swedish guitarist/programmer Samuel Hällkvist has inhabited in his post-rock-jazz albums such as Variety of Rhythm and Variety of Live. Just as intense as those earlier recordings, Epik, Didaktik, Pastoral blasts out solid walls of polyrhythms and electronics – but this time, there seems to be a greater sense of cohesion; a thread of overall structure, intent and chameleonic colour… if you can handle its unrelenting progression!

Rooted in Hällkvist’s deep, complex grooves – which are shared with his drummers and bassists – there are also contributions from sound designer and programmer Katrine Amsler, plus the smouldering trumpet improvisations of Yazz Ahmed, Noel Langley and Luca Calabrese. Pulsating, evolving stratum of venturesome sounds (the nearest comparison being Nik Bärtsch’s ECM albums) are supported by intriguing sleeve notes which significantly reference ‘self-dividing, self-replicating’, ‘nearly impossible yet entirely real’ and the pertinent phrase, ‘flood the senses’. And there is, indeed, an element of needing to positively submit to these crafted/processed, industrial/urban environments; the reward – an intoxicating, absorbing expedition.

Save for the introductory slide across the fretboard, Hällkvist’s guitars are typically integrated into the whole, demonstrated in opening Vägen Som Landet (The road like the land) as it bustles with funky, woven precision, incorporating reverse-bass riffs, big-band-style stabs and sultry, swirling brass. Utan Vilja (Without will) is rhythmically erratic and challenging, while intensifying movie tension is the dominant force in Hög (High), the first of three tracks under the collective title Dekorum; II and III – Medel (Average) and Låg (Low) – are similarly electrifying. The instrumental mélanges fascinate – Badboll Gles and Blåklocka, Ängsklocka especially for their Steve Reich-suggested impressions of tuned percussion, and 100 Takter Med Piano (100 beats with piano) for its spiky, morse code frenzy, complemented by spiralling trumpet. To close, unusually slow, ominous Omstart leads into Svedjebruk (Shifting cultivation), whose unyielding synth-pop strains find a blistering rock climax.

Dizzying, saturated, unsettling, mesmeric, rousing – any of these might be natural responses to Hällkvist’s ten, dynamic tracks which provide a pounding, sonic adventure almost like no other.

Released on 20 August 2020 (the artist’s 40th birthday), Epik, Didaktik, Pastoral and available in CD format from Burning Shed, as well as CD/digital at Bandcamp; and if streaming is for you – there, too.

 

Samuel Hällkvist guitars, MIDI programming, composition
Knut Finsrud drums
Dick Lövgren bass (tracks 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10)
Katrine Amsler sound design, programming (tracks 1, 7, 8, 10)
Anne Marte Eggen bass (tracks 2, 4, 9)
Yazz Ahmed trumpet (tracks 1, 3)
Luca Calabrese trumpet (tracks 2, 6)
Noel Langley additional trumpet (tracks 1, 3)

Cover art by Sophie Bass

samuelhallkvist.com

BoogiePost Recordings – BPCD031 (2020)

REVIEW: ‘Variety of Rhythm’ – Samuel Hällkvist

AN ENTICING, evolving experience which exhibits tremors of 1970s progressive formats, exploratory Swedish electric guitarist Samuel Hällkvist returns with immersive instrumental soundscape Variety of Rhythm.

His Variety of Loud and Variety of Live releases, of 2012 and 2015 respectively, revealed a musician with a singularly experimental vision for composition, instrumentation and improvisation; and he continues to garner respect across music’s cross-pollenating rock, electronica and jazz boundaries, from Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and ex-Japan keyboardist Richard Barbieri to trumpeter Yazz Ahmed (who reciprocally invited Hällkvist to appear on her recent release La Saboteuse).

Over the course of this continuous suite of almost 45 minutes, Hällkvist collaborates with a dozen musicians – including renowned US guitarist David Torn – through separately-recorded, differing scales of ensemble (in Japan, Portugal, New York, Paris, Belgium and Scandinavia), drawing mind and soul into a fluctuating landscape of sound which prompts the listener to contribute through their imagination. Hällkvist typically becomes part of the whole, integrating his processed guitar through a labyrinth of industrially cinematic drama, repetitively clanging timbres and almost dystopian sustained resonances – yet rather than creating an abstract mishmash, these carefully-woven ideas and illusions gradually become powerfully compelling, especially once they establish themselves in the psyche.

Timed, named waymarkers offer a clue to a conceptual, rock-solid framework interspersed with improvisational interludes (Hällkvist elaborating on the technical and structural aspects here), though the entirety of the work can easily be appreciated from a purely creative, openly-receptive standpoint. Double Adagio‘s rippling, wailing fuzz-guitar wall is propelled by time-shifting voice-and-glockenspiel-like tones, whereas as the more grungy trudge of nine-minute Tete-a-Tete / Blivet progresses into heavy metal, tinged with Steve Reichian attacca strings and ominously soaring guitar. David Torn’s expansive Huly Marga features his searching low-distorted guitar extemporisations against an electronic landscape reminiscent of Pink Floyd or late EST, whilst the extraordinary cross-rhythmic complexity of The Necker Cube, with oriental overtones, spills into subway-sax frenzy, movie-mystery malleted percussion and climactic, grooving grandeur.

Samuel Hällkvist’s maverick, detoured pathways create intrigue, and might initially overwhelm; but put through a responsive sound system, these three-dimensional worlds render in vivid full colour – the excellent concentric/segmented cover graphic points the way!

Released on 13 October 2017, Variety of Rhythm can be purchased digitally at Bandcamp, and is due to be available in gatefold CD format from Discovery Records and Amazon.

 

Samuel Hällkvist guitar
Dick Lövgren bass
David Torn guitar
Liesbeth Lambrecht violin
Qarin Wikström voice
Knut Finsrud drums
Pete Drungle keys
Yasuhiro Yoshigaki drums
Kumiko Takara mallet percussion
Paulo Chagas sax, flute
Silvia Corda various objects
Adriano Orru bass
Katrine Amsler edit, sound design

Mixed by August Wanngren

samuelhallkvist.com
varietyof.com

BoogiePost Recordings – BPCD024 (2017)

‘Agartha’ – Oddarrang

Agartha

IT’S THREE YEARS since Finnish band Oddarrang came to the attention of UK audiences with their third studio album (and first with British label Edition Records), In Cinema, plus live gigs. Now, once again under the leadership of drummer and composer Olavi Louhivuori, new release Agartha permeates the senses with that same, statuesque wall of sound.

The line-up is less than conventional (a clue can be found in the quintet’s name which, rather than having its roots in folklore, was in fact devised from ‘odd arrangement’). Alongside Louhivuori is trombonist Ilmari Pohjola, guitarist Lasse Sakara, bassist Lasse Lindgren and cellist Osmo Ikonen; and there’s significant band input on synths and voices, with Ikonen also adding Chinese/Asian stringed instrument, the erhu. So whilst Oddarrang’s original music displays the power of progressive rock and the drama of widescreen soundtrack, it is also flooded with the broad, open spaces and inflections of Scandinavian folk.

In fact, it feels like Louhivuori’s world is informed by many influences, opening number Aletheia mysteriously awakening through synth ostinati and sustained, descending hazes redolent of Vangelis and Tangerine Dream. This is not blistering-solo jazz, nor mundane ambience. Instead, a series of anthemic, post-rock panoramas are meticulously fashioned, often seeming to build their anticipatory energy towards a blazing aurora; and melodic Central Sun, in particular, reveals both the force and beauty of this fine instrumentation – steely, unison trombone and voices above driving guitar and percussion, steadfastly facing into the wind. In Admiral Byrd’s Flight, an ardent rock groove of determination and intrigue is woven around pulsating, phased electronics and impassioned cello (the stuff of adventure movie climax).

The remaining two tracks of five hint at those extended, storytelling, prog expeditions of yore. At around ten minutes’ duration, slow-burning Mass I-III moves through a series of connected movements, its orchestral poise maintained by trombone, cello and string synth sustenance; and the more folsky guitar addition opens the door to windswept electronics and a thunderously-drummed conclusion. And Telos/Agartha (the album is titled after the legendary city at the earth’s core) is another extended opus whose gaseous, overlapping textures invite the beautiful, cantabile vibrato of the erhu before eventually reaching a hymnal conclusion, with triumphant trombone and cello melodies elevated above the band’s now-familiar layers of synth and percussion.

Oddarrang’s ability to radiate awe and wonder through their specific instrumentation and careful detailing is sure to appeal to those who appreciate emotive, majestic soundscapes.

Released on 23 September 2016, Agartha is available as CD, vinyl or digital download from Bandcamp.

Video: Mass I-III

 

Olavi Louhivuori drums, synths, voice
Ilmari Pohjola trombone, synths, voice
Lasse Sakara guitars, voice
Lasse Lindgren bass, synths, voice
Osmo Ikonen cello, synths, erhu, voice
with
Aino Peltomaa voice on Aletheia

oddarrang.com

Edition Records – EDN1079 (2016)