An enthralling collaboration between the vocalist and guitarist.
Peter Marsh 2012-08-02
Now some 30 years into her recording career, Norwegian vocalist Sidsel Endresen remains a singular figure. Never really considered a jazz singer (by herself anyway), for the last few years she's concentrated more on improvisation and extending the potential of her voice as an instrument.
Recent meetings with a younger generation of Nordic musicians – Helge Sten, Christian Wallumrod, Halon Kornstad and Humcrush – have yielded some of the bravest and most beautiful music of her career. And this set with guitarist Stian Westerhus, recorded live in Bergen, is no exception.
Endresen's vocabulary ranges from what you might call "proper" singing to strange, half-spoken phrases, tonal interjections, hums, breaths, gulps, clicks and croaks. There is some kind of unidentifiable language at work, and it's one that carries a hefty but ambiguous emotional punch.
One minute she's sounding like a malfunctioning cyborg, the next a wounded animal or someone in the throes of a psychological meltdown. Then she's sending out long arcs of aching melody worthy of Joni Mitchell at her most obliquely lyrical, or speaking in tongues much as Mary Margaret O'Hara used to.
Using loops, delays, pitch shifters and a whole bunch of jiggery-pokery, Westerhus creates dark, brooding environments for Endresen to inhabit; cavernous bangs, spectral drones, clicks and pops, distant chimes and howls flit through the soundscape. There's not much that passes for conventional guitar playing here. But Westerhus feeds in just enough notes to allow Endresen to work in melodic phrases.
Despite the often brutally dark textures he's a sensitive accompanist, and the empathy between the two is stunning. Wooing the Oracle hinges on a crunching, detuned riff that Endresen uses to deliver a suitably feral outburst that'd have PJ Harvey quaking in her boots. The Law of Oh is a finely crafted essay in spontaneous composition, the pair perfectly attuned in a mournful yet powerful coda; a long cool drink of water after the strong stuff.
If you hadn't guessed, this is not background music. If you're prepared to give it your time and undivided attention, this is an enthralling listen.