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)

‘Reverie at Schloss Elmau’: Duo Art – Gwilym Simcock & Yuri Goloubev

Reverie

PART OF ACT’S ‘DUO ART’ SERIES, ‘Reverie at Schloss Elmau’ brings together two good friends from the contemporary jazz world – British pianist Gwilym Simcock and Russian (Milan-resident) double bassist Yuri Goloubev – for a programme of gloriously poetic brilliance.

Situated in Germany, towards the Austrian border, Elmau is a favoured stomping ground for Simcock – a recording retreat of creative calm, and the location for his solo piano album, ‘Good Days at Schloss Elmau’ (ACT, 2011). In this same environment, the pianist and bassist have woven together a sumptuous tapestry of co-written originals, drawn from their illustrious classical and jazz experiences – the appeal of this crossover confirmed by their recent, well-received live performance on BBC Radio 3’s established, chamber-focused Lunchtime Concert slot, as well as many international stage appearances.

Recording together previously (on ‘Blues Vignette’, as a trio with James Maddren – Basho, 2009), it’s clear that Simcock and Goloubev have developed a strong telepathic communication, their compositions leaping to the vibrant rhythms of jazz, as well as incorporating the grace and complex harmonic language of (amongst others I hear) Debussy, Ravel, Brahms and perhaps even Gershwin. Both musicians approach their craft with exacting precision, each able to ‘turn on a sixpence’ from emotional yearning – often characterised by Goloubev’s sustained, rhapsodic arco – to the tumbling, overflowing joy of Simcock’s dazzling piano.

Pastoral begins the journey with a pellucid, spacial simplicity which resembles Scandinavian folksong, pictorialised by droplet- and icicle-suggested effects before gaining gently-paced momentum – the first indication of the extraordinarily sensitive interaction that permeates the entire album. Also, it soon becomes apparent that these nine pieces are not for the background but, rather, demand close attention to fully appreciate the detail – indeed, importantly, at louder volumes the physical resonance is such that it’s easy to become involved at a much more intimate level. As an illustration, in Lost Romance, Goloubev’s lithe fingerwork annunciates every passage with such amazing depth, melodic accuracy, ringing harmonics and vibrato… it really is breathtaking, especially for an instrument so often consigned to plodding support! Shades of Pleasure explores major and minor keys with a luscious intertwining of piano and bass between its gently jarring main theme, set against a smoothly-ebbing piano ostinato, Goloubev again demonstrating his considerable dexterity.

In contrast to the duo’s quieter moments, Antics is a wondrously frolicking episode based around a familiar ‘playground jibe’ motif which the pair gladly tease each other with. Simcock seems to be establishing an upbeat pianistic style all of his own, featuring heavily accented chords and bounding baselines, best described as a ‘breakneck blues’ – such a compelling listen; and Yuri does well to chase him closely into every corner of these brisk four minutes. A Joy Forever tugs at the heartstrings, a beautifully emotive tune from the exquisite, cello-like fluidity of Goloubev, his switch from arco to fingered bass no less sublime (I recall seeing a young Gwilym Simcock playing many years ago with legendary drummer Bill Bruford – Earthworks, with Tim Garland – and the loftiness of this piece brings to mind Bruford’s own piano and bass gem, ‘Palewell Park’).

Non-Schumann Lied might be seen as reference to the artists’ classical beginnings, its songlike impressions maybe more elegantly Brahmsian in flavour; and Flow eddies and skips along to the lucid, colourful melodies that both instrumentalists share so keenly. The leggero ‘song without words’ feel of Vain Song finds Goloubev once again displaying a remarkable lightness of touch, Simcock hitting the heights of jazz soloing finesse (listen closely – this is a real treasure). And finally, an almost Elgarian Reverie (from the pen of 19th Century bass virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini) – its subtle Victorian shades, reminiscent of Chanson de Nuit, find Yuri Goloubev at his most classically lyrical (though not without idiosyncratic improvisatory interlude) against the restrained romantic piano of Simcock.

Gwilym Simcock and Yuri Goloubev are, separately, to be found in many different guises in a currently buzzing contemporary jazz scene. But here, they pause to forge beauty and majesty in this coming together of two acoustic instruments – illuminated, of course, by their combined musical genius.

‘Reverie at Schloss Elmau’ is released on the ACT label – more information and audio samples here.


Gwilym Simcock
piano
Yuri Goloubev double bass

ACT 9624-2 (2104)