by Ian Mann
October 18, 2012
Tumbleweed meets the Tundra.
1982 with B J Cole
“1982 + B J Cole”
(Hubro Records 2522 - available on both CD and vinyl)
1982 is a Norwegian trio featuring the unusual instrumental configuration of harmonium (Sigbjorn Apeland), Hardanger fiddle/violin (Nils Okland) and drums (Oyvind Skarbo). The group made their recording début in 2009 with an eponymous release on the NORCD label. Moving to Hubro they followed this with the well received “Pintura” (2011).
1982 play totally improvised music, setting up facing each other “live” in the studio and playing in real time without the help of isolation booths etc. Their organic approach and focus on simplicity and minimalism is embodied by the fact that the tracks on their albums have no titles but are merely numbered (at least on the two Hubro albums, the only ones I’ve heard). 1982’s music sounds very different to jazz derived free improv, the combination of harmonium and Hardanger fiddle, the latter with additional resonating understrings, allows for the creation of drones and layers which gives the trio’s music a distinctive haunting, palpably Nordic quality. Okland originates from the world of folk music and as well as recording several solo albums for ECM and Rune Grammofon also worked with pianist Christian Wallumrod’s eclectic Ensemble for many years. Apeland plays church music and also has a doctorate in ethnomusicology. He is a pioneer in the art of improvisation on his instrument and has also ventured into the world of electronica with the group Alog. Skarbo, also the producer of this record, is considerably younger than his colleagues (born 1982, his birthdate presumably the reason for the trio’s unusual nomenclature) and brings a youthful vitality to the group. He studied with the celebrated Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset and has made field trips to Nigeria and Cuba. Like Apeland he has worked with saxophonist Hakon Kornstad, the latter’s highly atmospheric albums of improvised solo saxophone and electronics have arguably had a considerable influence on 1982’s own sound. However the trio’s music brings all their influences and inspirations to bear to create a sound palette that is very much their own.
After recording two studio albums as a trio plus the innovative “Bottlemail” project (see the band’s website http://www.1982trio.com for the fascinating details) the members of 1982 felt that it would be exciting to ask a guest to play with them. Okland suggested the legendary British pedal steel guitarist B J Cole with whom he had played a few years earlier at the suggestion of BBC Radio Three Late Junction presenter Fiona Talkington. Cole has been part of the musical landscape for almost as long as I can remember. A veteran session musician he was first call for pretty much any British rock or pop record that required a pedal steel guitar, his list of credits is long and impressive(T.Rex, Elton John, Sting, Iggy Pop and more) and he was often part of the touring line up for many of rock and pop’s biggest names (REM, The Verve). Rather more obscurely I remember him being a member of early 70’s rock band Cochise alongside one time Procol Harum guitarist Mick Grabham.
However Cole has always had an experimental side as four solo albums plus his work with David Sylvian and Brian Eno suggests, and he is just perfect for 1982’s music adding yet another tonal element to their already heavily layered sound. To my ears Cole’s presence makes this release a more varied and satisfying record than the earlier “Pintura”, impressive though that was. The extra instrumental voice increases the aural possibilities and is an additional focus for the listener.
For the recording 1982 and their guest set up in the group’s traditional way at the Grieghallen studio in Bergen. All eight pieces were recorded in the course of a single day and grew out of the newly convened quartet’s improvisations. In the press release accompanying my copy of the album Skarbo reveals that he had never met Cole before the session and goes on to explain something of the group’s recording process saying “mainly we improvised freely for a few hours. At intervals we tried more concrete things , for instance a special fiddle tuning, or we recorded an entire track based on one random idea somebody had during one of the freer sessions”. There’s an intriguing video on the band’s website (shot during the recording of “Pintura”) that reveals more of the trio’s working methods. There’s also fascinating snippet of a live performance that sees Skarbo taking a hammer and hand drill to his drums, shades here of German experimentalists such as Faust and Einsturzende Neubaten.
However most of the album is low key and contemplative, 1982 and their guest are primarily concerned with atmosphere and mood building. The first piece, simply titled “1” includes snatches folkish violin melodies, eerie electronic sounding noises presumably coaxed from Apeland’s harmonium and the keening of Cole’s pedal steel guitar. The presence of Cole gives the music a melancholy ring that evokes memories of Bill Frisell’s patented blend of Americana. Here it blends brilliantly with 1982’s own signature blend of Nordic dolour. Tumbleweed meets the Tundra. The music unfolds gradually, constantly shifting shape but as if in slow motion. 1982’s music has a strong visual quality and would make good music for the right kind of film, an art movie say or some kind of serious documentary.
Skarbo’s role on the opener is fairly understated, limited to supplying glitches and occasional splashes of colour. His drum intro to “2” hints at hip hop and other electronic music before the drone of the other instruments enters the proceedings. This is one of the group’s most structured sounding pieces, it almost feels as if it could have been written. Apeland’s harmonium sometimes provides rhythmic pulses giving Cole’s steel guitar the chance to soar.
“3” is a delightful miniature with Cole’s lonesome steel guitar whine offset by Okland’s equally lonely sounding violin, the occasional shimmer of cymbals and the drone of the harmonium. Again there’s a marked cinematic quality to the music. “4” covers similar territory, a perfect little jewel lasting less than a minute.
“5” is more urgent and fidgety with Skarbo gently but fretfully worrying away at his kit as Okland, Apeland and Cole conjure up increasingly dark and unsettling textures. Eventually the drummer develops a stronger groove before the piece ultimately dissolves into amorphousness.
Apeland’s church music background seems to predominate on the almost hymnal “6” as Cole’s guitar and the brushed bustle of Skarbo’s drums threaten to relocate the music elsewhere.
“7”‘s rhythmic pulses and drones, courtesy of fiddle and harmonium hint at the music of Steve Reich with Skarbo’s minimalistic drumming and a hint of electronica adding a more contemporary reference. Like “5” it’s eerie and unsettling.
The closing “8” is the closest 1982 get to rock, there’s a psychedelic air about this three minute instrumental driven by Skarbo’s drums and with Cole sounding almost Pink Floyd like. Apeland’s harmonium underpins the sound and ultimately the piece drifts off towards abstraction.
There’s much to enjoy about this album which like its immediate predecessor is only about half an hour long. Many of the pieces seem to finish abruptly and are obviously fragments edited from a far lengthier improvisation. They’ll be just perfect for Late Junction. Some items seem to be more structured than others, presumably those that as Skarbo said had developed from previously attempted ideas. Ultimately its all a bit too fragmented to be totally satisfying but 1982 remains an intriguing work in progress and I suspect that as a live experience they might be quite fascinating.
British readers will get the chance to put this to the test on October 20th 2012 when 1982 plus Cole will appear at Kings Place, London as part of a special Hubro Records night. Sharing the bill with them will be the exciting young piano trio Moskus whose album “Salmesykkel” also appears on the Hubro label. I intend to look at this release in due course.
Details of this event can be found at http://www.kingsplace.co.uk
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