by Ian Mann
February 20, 2018
These are genuine musical conversations and there’s an intimate, relaxed quality about them that is very appealing, even when the duo are at their most experimental.
Jo David Meyer Lysne & Mats Eilertsen
(Ora Fonogram OF128)
Released in December 2017 “Meander” is an intriguing series of duets featuring the young Norwegian guitarist Jo David Meyer Lysne (born 1994) and the more experienced bassist Mats Eilertsen (born 1975).
Lysne is also a member of the electro-improvising duo Wendra Hill, alongside the bassist and cellist Joel Ring. The pair self released their début album “Stretch, Flex, Draw” earlier in 2017.
The guitarist has also worked as a sideman with the sound and visual artist Jenny Berger Myhre and appears on her 2017 album “Lint”.
Lysne studied at Sund Folk College and at the Norwegian Academy of Music before becoming a professional musician. He is currently a busy presence on the still burgeoning Norwegian jazz scene.
By comparison to the young guitarist Eilertsen is a relative veteran, appearing many times on the Jazzmann web pages leading his own groups on albums such as the 2014 trio recording “Sails Set” and the excellent quartet offering “Skydive” (2012). He is also well known as a member of groups led by pianists Tord Gustavsen and Alexi Tuomarila and by kantele player and vocalist Sinikka Langeland.. Eilertsen was also a member of the original quartet version of Food featuring drummer Thomas Stronen, trumpeter Arve Henriksen and the English saxophonist Iain Ballamy.
Lysne is interested in creating new timbres for the guitar and regularly experiments with both electronics and prepared guitar techniques, often rebuilding his instruments. Yet at the heart of Lysne’s experimentations lies an old fashioned love of woodworking, something learned from his grandfather, a skilled builder and woodworker. “I’m searching for ways to make an illusion that the sound of the guitar is bigger than it is, or that it might sound like a totally different instrument” Lysne has explained.
“Meander” was recorded at the world famous Rainbow Studio in Oslo with the great Jan Erik Kongshaug, a veteran of countless ECM recording sessions, at the engineering desk. However much of the music was inspired by the rural landscape around Sluten in the Filefjell region of Norway where Lysne’s grandfather built the family’s cabin.
The eleven short pieces that make up “Meander” are performed on essentially acoustic instruments although both musicians bring a degree of electronic enhancement to the arrangements. Lysne plays both six and twelve string acoustic guitars and Eilertsen double bass. Five pieces are credited solely to Lysne suggesting that they were pre-composed with much of the writing taking place at Sluten. The others are credited jointly, implying that they were freely improvised in the studio.
Much of the music is straightforwardly beautiful but there is also a more experimental current running through the music, the two elements combining to express both the beauty and the darkness of the Norwegian landscape.
Appropriately the album commences with the joint composition “Intro”, the eerie shimmers conjuring up images of the chilly beauty of a starlit Nordic night. It’s an impressionistic but beautiful piece with both musicians bringing their range of “effects” to the table. Eilertsen is almost certainly using a bow while Lysne realises his dream of making the guitar sound like “a totally different instrument”.
Lysne’s “Sluten”, arguably the piece that kick started the whole project, introduces a more conventional acoustic sound with Myrhe on cleanly picked guitar while Eilertsen flourishes the bow to create a warm, cello like sound on double bass. The older man also plays pizzicato, his tone rich and woody.
A second pre-composed Lysne tune, “Meander” itself, is an achingly beautiful duet for acoustic guitar and pizzicato double bass that sees Eilertsen assuming the lead in places. There’s a warmth and spaciousness about the music that recalls the duets between guitarist and ECM recording artist Ralph Towner and former Oregon bassist Glen Moore.
The jointly credited “Steinkast” brings the duo’s two approaches together with Lysne continuing to deploy a conventional acoustic guitar sound while Eilertsen fulfils a freer, more experimental role on bowed bass, his, atmospheric nuanced contributions adding commentary and punctuation to this fascinating miniature.
Also jointly credited “Apning” returns the duo to the same kind of experimental sonic landscape as the album opener. Here colour, texture, nuance and atmosphere is more important than melody but the duo’s spacey, ethereal abstraction has a beauty of its own and a pictorial quality redolent of both dark forests and deep space.
The piece segues into the shorter “Pil” , another improvised piece featuring the lonely sound of Eilertsen’s plucked bass above the almost subliminal shimmer of Lysne’s guitar effects.
Lysne’s “Summer Over” re-introduces a more conventional song like structure and is a beautiful acoustic guitar and double bass duet with a folkish quality about the melody. If one wasn’t aware of the identity of the musicians one might almost think it was a piece of Bill Frisell Americana. I’ve yet to hear Frisell’s ongoing duo with bassist Thomas Morgan but suspect that it may sound somewhat similar.
Also pre-composed the beautiful “Duolian” initially acts as a showcase for Eilertsen’s beautiful arco playing, his bow again generating a warm, melancholic cello like sound. Later he demonstrates his pizzicato skills, his dexterous but deeply resonant playing no less effective in this context. Meanwhile Lysne’s sensitive, arpeggiated chording acts as the anchor that holds the piece together.
The brief “Digg Dyne” is an improvised duet lasting a little over a minute, led by Eilertsen’s plucked bass and with Lysne adding feathery, spidery guitar effects.
Lysne’s “Meso” represents the final pre-composed piece with Lysne’s attractive guitar melodies shadowed by Eilertsen’s plucked bass and with a soupçon of FX adding to an atmosphere that is again vaguely reminiscent of Frisell, or maybe Pat Metheny’s “New Chautauqua” album.
The recording concludes with the jointly improvised “Uro”, which bookends the album neatly with its richly atmospheric soundscapes involving the use of what sounds like looping techniques.
At around half an hour in length “Meander” is short by the standards of the modern album yet in this exposed format it feels just right. None of the pieces exceeds four and a half minutes and by keeping things concise the duo ensure that no idea is allowed to overstay its welcome, even when the pair are at their most experimental.
I’ve read that Lysne is a former pupil of Eilertsen’s but this is very much a meeting of equals with Lysne the principal compositional voice. There’s an easy chemistry between the pair and the duo communicate effectively throughout - and although each musician enjoys moments in the spotlight there’s never any sense of any competitiveness between them. Both serve the music faithfully and its easy to see why Eilertsen has appeared on over a hundred recordings as leader, co-leader or sideman.
These are genuine musical conversations and there’s an intimate, relaxed quality about them that is very appealing, even when the duo are at their most experimental. The sequencing of the album varies and mixes the two approaches well and one can imagine these vignettes, charming and atmospheric by turns, featuring effectively on BBC Radio 3’s “Late Junction” programme.
With its subtle mix of folk melody, jazz improvisation and electronic effects “Meander” won’t appeal to everybody’s ears but fans of Late Junction, ECM and Nordic jazz in general should find much to enjoy in these well crafted, supremely played duets. There’s great beauty here, but also a quiet experimental edge that helps the music to transcend mere ‘prettiness’. Aged only twenty three Lysne is already creating an individual style for himself and looks to be a name to watch out for in the future.
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