Monday, 4 March 2013

ILK releases + Mark Solborg.

I was surprised to realise that I've been a fan of the ILK music label longer than I'd realised! In fact I'd be tempted to say that along with Clean Feed it's probably one of the most interesting and forward looking improvised music labels out there. One look at the catalogue and most jazzheads that enjoy something a little different will be wondering which albums 'not' to buy! Artists such as Lotte Anker, Herb Robertson, Evan Parker or Kirsten Osgood can be found on the label in various formations. Although I haven't heard all the records (naturally) each one that comes my way is certainly worth more than a quick listen. In the past month I've received three excellent records, one from last year of 2012, and the other two from this year 2013. The records in question are Mark Solborg's '4+4+1' from 2012, Mark Solborg's 'The Trees' (2013) and a very gifted trumpet player Tomasz Dabrowski's 'Tom Trio' also from 2013.

I'll review Tomasz Dabrowski's record on the next post, but here I'll bring you up to date with two excellent releases from Mark Solborg, a guitarist who is obviously able to work in both areas of free improvised music and written arranged composition. He also clearly has a very melodic ear when it comes to writing a tune ... read on to find out more.  

Mark Solborg 4+4+1 (ILK music, 2012).

Here's the review of '4+4+1' which I posted on the Free Jazz review site:

Well this is one of those discs I wished I'd heard earlier, it would definitely have been on my top CDs of 2012. Anyhow, it seems this one,like a few others we're reviewing recently, slipped through the net and got left to one side. Furthermore ILK has steadily been releasing some excellent albums over the past few years, some of which have been reviewed here and often with very positive remarks. 

I remember reviewing another record of with Mark Solborg (see below) which also impressed me. His ability to cross between improvised and composed seems one of the major strengths in his style. This extended line up also moves very gracefully between completely improvised passages into beautifully written material. His writing uses a rich mixture of brass that includes a tuba and a bass, really giving the music real punch yet also bringing a very warm and rich sound to the ensemble. The group playing is very high quality, judging dynamics, solo space, tempos and open improvised sections down to a 't'. There isn't one wasted minute on the record.

Looking at the musicians below you'll notice Chris Speed, the +1 in the ensemble. His solos when they appear are spot on as always, but it's refreshing to hear that Solborg didn't over use him, giving over plenty of space to his other musicians as well. One voice that stands out is that of Gunnar Halle, a fine trumpeter from the same lineage as Arve Henriksen or Jon Hassell. Halle gets to shine on the delicate '2620' (tk2), sounding like a voice echoing in a valley that drifts around you in the early morning air. He also unites the ensemble on the excellent 'The Whispers' (tk4), where along with Anders Banke's fine bass clarinet playing the two horns rise above the group, gradually bringing them back together like a feather landing. Solborg takes a 'modest' position in the group, adding dynamics, chords, doubling melodies (etc) as needed. But of course he leaves his mark not only with his very subtle interjections but also with the immaculate compositions. 

The music is so full of details that I expect every listen will bring out new details. Furthermore they are all fairly lengthy pieces, which makes for perfect listening. Every one - five in all - has something unique, an ambience, or a theme which is developed throughout the composition by using free improvised sections, ostinatos, silence and hard hitting themes. A theme like 'Almost' (tk3) unfolds from a simple drum/tenor sax duet into ensemble passages which each time open up to more collective improvisations, yet unknowingly we are transported into a menacing theme which has somehow crept in without anyone noticing. All this simply shows how well this music has been crafted together, and was probably, from what we hear, a great concert also. However, luckily for us it's all on the record, so to say!

On this record, recorded live in 2007, the line-up is made up of two quartets: Anders Banke (tenor sax/bass clarinet), Solborg (gtr), Jeppe Skovbakke (bass), Bjørn Heebøll (drums) + Gunnar Halle (tmpt), Laura Toxværd (alto sax), Torben Snekkestad (tenor:soprano saxes/clarinet), Jakob Munck (tuba/trombone) + Chris Speed (tenor/clarinet) = 4+4+1. 

You can listen to a few extracts from the album here.

Mark Solborg 'The Trees' (ILK music, 2013).

A more recent release from Mark Solborg is his glorious 5tet, made up from Solborg on guitars, Mats Eilersten: double bass, Peter Bruun: drums, percussion, kalimba, Herb Robertson: trumpet, voice, pump organ, kalimba, Evan Parker: tenor & soprano saxes, kalimba & gong.  

This is one hell of a record, and - for me - yet another direction taken by Mark Solborg. Solborg seems to be able to take elements of music and mould his writing and the choice of players to get the best out of them. On previous recordings such as '4+4+1' and 'Hopscotch' the music has been more 'conceived', whereas this project obviously relies on team work. In fact what stands out on this recording is the empathy between the players and the natural group sound, everyone places themselves at the service of the music. One example that stands out is Peter Bruun's drums. He probably never really hits the drums in a way one would expect to hear from this instrument. He uses his kit in such a subtle way that you only realise that the drums are not 'in your face' quite late in the recording. He plays percussion as well on this recording which may account for the subtlety of the silent sound approach. It makes me think of some of the Supersilent and early Food records where Deathprod (Helge Sten) took out instruments giving the music space, which often has more impact. 

Describing the individual tracks on this record isn't really very helpful as in reality the album works best as one whole piece/listen. Once you've pressed the play button you'll find yourself in a dark world of sounds which keep you fixed to your sofa. I imagine you could pick out 'a' track to listen to, but the atmosphere of the combined tracks seems more natural for a listening experience. There are moments where the sax of Evan Parker or Herb Robertson's trumpet come right to the fore such as the opening track. The two horns play a mournful duet which suddenly stops to let Mark Solborg's guitar step forward playing a solo as if accompanying a silent partner. The music steps off from this point never looking back. I could name a few moments where each instrument takes it's place as the principal voice, but probably the fact that the others decided 'not' to play is of equal importance. I should add that there are several tracks where the horn players play kalimbas or other percussion instruments which adds some very nice textures to the music and of course adds even more space.

The majority of the music is restrained, not unlike the cover photo, and comes across a little like sunlight trying to break through a dense forest. Picking an extract from this record is extremely  difficult, after all where to break into the flow of things? Finally I just went for a short piece called 'Dogwood'. The group goes into full flight for just a few minutes before plunging back into the silent filled gaps of the record.

Dogwood (tk 3) from Mark Solborg's 'The Trees' (ILK music, 2013)

Both records are thoroughly recommended. I'll be following up more of ILK's catalogue in the future, certainly a very interesting label. Look out for the next review which will be Tomasz Dabrowski's 'Tom Trio' also from ILK music (2013).

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