The Norwegian label Hubro celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. It’s a small independent label that has become one of the most interesting in Europe through its championing of all the fascinating and varied music that is coming out of Norway. The most notable characteristic of this music and particularly of that recorded on the Hubro label, is that it does not fit into one category. It is the music of blurred genres, so that we have, for example, an artist noted for his folk music such as Nils Økland collaborating with experimental musicians, or bands such as Exoterm adding strong elements of rock and free improvisation into a jazz approach. This is clearly a feature of the contemporary Norwegian music scene, but increasingly it is a more general feature of music making throughout creative circles in Europe.
Every so often a package arrives from Norway with a number of the latest releases. They are beautifully packaged and accompanied by a press release outlining the key points of each release. One attractive feature, at least for me, is that the CDs are relatively short with about 35 to 40 minutes of music in each Cd, in other words about the length of a vinyl album. I find this healthy as I still, in my perhaps old-fashioned way, like to sit down and listen to an album in one go, thinking about it as I listen. The Cds that have up to or over 70 minutes of music make that much more difficult.
Four Cds arrived recently and I will comment on each one briefly. They are excellent examples of the variety mentioned above. Some are rooted in jazz, but draw on rock and trash metal, while other are based in folk, but combine it with aspects of experimental rock.
LUMEN DRONES: UMBRA
This is a fascinating album combining the essentially folk sound of Nils Økland’s Hardanger fiddle and violin with that of two experimental rock musicians, Per Steinar Lie on guitars and Ørjan Haaland on drums. It’s their second album, the first having come out on ECM five years ago. There are nine tracks varying in length nearly 7 minutes to shorter tracks of just over 2 minutes. Each tune has its own character from the gentle hynoptic feel of the opening track Inngang to the rock feel of the third track Droneslag that has the fiddle improvising over the driving rhythms of the guitar and drums. The notes suggest that ‘ there might be a bit of Sonic Youth in there, along with Joy Division, John Calle, Arvo Pärt, Dick Dale, Lamonte Young, Paganini …, but it doesn’t really intrude: Lumen Drones play Lumen Drones music’. It is also intriguing to hear how the Hardanger fiddle, usually associated with folk and classical music, sounds at home with the jazz, rock and contemporary classical sounds of the trio.
EXOTERM: EXITS INTO A CORRIDOR
Exoterm is a Norwegian American quartet led by bass player Rune Nergaard and featuring Norwegian saxophonist Kristoffer Berre Alberts, plus guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Jim Black from the USA. The album was recorded in Brooklyn and has six tracks. It is an extremely powerful and occasionally overwhelming album that is full of very intense improvisation, but also adds some gentler more ambient passages. The notes quotes Nergaard talking of each member of the trio’s love of jazz, rock and improvised music, but that’ in this band every rule and musical boundary is torn down and we combine our musical influences in one big gumbo of sound’
JO BERGER MYHRE & ÓLAFUR BJÖRN ÓLAFSSON: LANZAROTE
This is essentially a duo album the mood of which is one of melancholy triggered by Ólaffson’s sadness at the death of Johann Johannson just before the recording of the album. Ólaffson had often worked with Johannson and was understandably shocked by his unexpected death. The music is based on a process whereby the songs are initially created through improvisation and then treated sonically often with overdubs. The sound is thus ambiently-inclined, but with layers of electronics added. Track 2 Atomised/All We’ve Got is a good example; on this Ólaffson plays percussion and electronics gradually building up the layers of sound over Myhre’s bass. On three tracks the duo is joined by a small section of trumpet and trombone doubling tuba adding an extra melancholy texture.
This is a septet led by Óvind Skarbó on drums, percussion, vibes and banjo. The music is the most eclectic of the four albums reviewed here. The notes state that ‘Óvind Skarbó doesn’t just think outside the box. With this drummer/composer there is no box.’ There are nine tracks that include vocals accompanied by banjo, a steel guitar solo and a final more in-your-face track. It’s all very approachable and good fun.
The Hubro label is celebrating its anniversary with a number of showcases round Europe: October 31st October Lantaren Venster, Rotterdam; Spice of Life London 3rd November; La Dynamo, Pantin, France 4th November and Auster Club, Berlin 5th November.