NativeDSD’s Songlines reissue program is uncovering overlooked gems from the early SACD treasure chest. This demonstration-quality DSD release revisits a short-lived but innovative ensemble.
– Mark Werlin
Ditty Blei is the second recording for Songlines by Icelandic guitarist Hilmar Jensson of drummer Jim Black’s Alasnoaxis band.
An acoustic quintet of hand-picked players from the downtown New York scene gives Jensson’s challenging compositions a rhythmic flair and melodic/harmonic interest that might recall Chris Speed’s Yeah No in its balance between off-beat grooves and improvisational freedom, rock extraversion and jazz discipline. Intricate counterpoint from the horns, abrasive guitar solos, constantly shifting metres, and Black’s time-bending percussive commentary complete the picture. With a stark but tender emotional underpinning that engages the listener, Jensson here laid out his vision of jazz, even if at the time he questioned whether jazz is a useful descriptor for his music:
“Ever since the early ’90s I’ve had a close relationship with the music and musicians of the downtown scene. There are many exciting things happening in Iceland but this is the core of my musical self. New York is where this style was born and where the strongest players are so it’s natural for me to turn there when I need to realize my ideas. The fact that many of these musicians are my close friends makes the choice even more natural. The term “jazz” though doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. It’s way too broad to define and that’s good. I think that many different genres of music are melting into one indefinable style with plenty of room for variation and no need to be anything except good and interesting.
“My interest in odd meters and rhythmic complexities goes far back. I was starting to write this type of material when I lived in Brooklyn and Chris Speed and the others had just started to be fascinated by Balkan music. For some reason I was fascinated by having meters change all the time, bar by bar, which is very different from folk music where the odd meters are consistent throughout the piece. I wanted the music to ‘limp’ a bit.
“As a guitarist I’m very into using preparations and extended techniques: bows, alligator clips, mini-fans, screws, e-bow, drumsticks, a snare and various other things. Many musicians have deeply affected my playing: Frisell, Scofield, Metheny, Abercrombie, Miles, Jarrett, Ornette, Zorn, Paul Motian. And I’ve been inspired by the people I’ve worked with: Jim, Chris, Andrew D’Angelo, Skuli Sverrisson, Eyvind Kang and Tim Berne to name a few. The avant-rock influence is quite recent. I’ve followed the blooming Chicago scene (including guitarists Jim O’Rourke and Kevin Drumm) with great interest. My ears have also opened up to a lot of composed, improvised and electronic music: Mats Gustafsson, Gunter Muller, Bernard Gunter, Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, Luc Ferrari.”
Hilmar Jensson, Electric & Acoustic guitar
Jim Black, Drums
Andrew D’Angelo, Alto Sax & Bass Clarinet
Trevor Dunn, Double Bass
Herb Robertson, Trumpet
TracklistPlease note that the below previews are loaded as 44.1 kHz / 16 bit.
Total time: 00:53:03
EMM Labs (model not known)
|Original Recording Format|
Systems Two, Brooklyn
|Release Date||November 10, 2023|
Mark Werlin (NativeDSD, HRAudio.net and All About Jazz)
The attentive listening that Hilmar, D’Angelo and Black developed over years of living and playing together is evident in “Mayla maybe”, where the multiple voices retain their distinctive sounds in free-blowing sections and in tightly-arranged written ensemble passages. A quiet, unaccompanied acoustic guitar intro sets the introspective tone of “Correct me if I’m right”. In response to the wistful opening theme, Robertson blows a solo in legato lines that convey poignant longing.
Describing Hilmar’s sound in a few words is a daunting task. Performances on Hilmar’s own 1995 recording “Dofinn”, the 2014 chamber jazz album “Flock”, a collaboration with Belgian musicians Ruben Machtelincx and Joachim Badenhorst, and the 2016 release “Saumur” led by innovative trumpetist Arve Henrikson finds Hilmar ranging over many different idioms, from thrash to free jazz to meditative ambient grooves. So I’ll pick one word – protean – that describes Hilmar Jensson’s ability to adopt the right sound for the setting. On “Ditty Blei”, he summed up the experiences of his time in the U.S., and set himself on a course of musical discovery that is still in progress.
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