Erlend Olderskog Albertsen: RødssalG nEEn GlassdøR
Many a jazz artist's debut release hews to a familiar script, its set-list a mix of originals, covers, and perhaps an homage or two. Deviating intrepidly from such practice is Norwegian double bassist Erlend Olderskog Albertsen, whose RødssalG nEEn GlassdøR is about as ambitious as a debut could conceivably be. Inspired by the otherworldly imagery of Tommy Vaagen's cover artwork, Albertsen wrote a sci-fi story based upon it and composed material that extends the palindromic character of the album title into its compositions; as one might gather from their titles, “RødssalG nE” and “En Glassdør,” for example, are mirror versions of one another, while “Nanos Particles” begins with two piano melodies played simultaneously, one the reverse of the other. Musical rules and conventions are repeatedly turned inside out and twisted sideways on the fifty-two-minute recording, making for a consistently compelling listen.
Albertsen's no neophyte, by the way. His playing in bands such as Akmee and Filosofer has obviously laid solid groundwork for this debut, and the musicians joining him on the date—trumpeter Erik Kimestad Pedersen, alto saxophonist Martin Myhre Olsen, trombonist Nilas Granseth, pianist Kjetil Jerve, and drummer Andreas Wildhagen—brought ample experience of their own to the project. Among the groups with which they've been involved are Trondheim Jazzorkester, Nakama, Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit, Mandaljazz, Horse Orchestra, and Wako.
In brief, the story concerns the planet RødssalG nE, a group called the Seekers of the Origin, and the need to transcend to a 5th dimension to prevent a black hole from causing the destruction of 4th-dimensional reality. After time shifts occur that move back 1000 and then 500 years, a portal to the 5th dimension is located and two ‘Curtains' are encountered, one of which involves time unfolding backwards and forwards simultaneously. Ultimately the Seekers of the Origin embark on a mission to access that portal and relatedly En GlassdøR. In keeping with the narrative, Albertsen worked backwards and forwards ideas into the musical structures, helped along in this regard by a music notation program that enabled him to reverse musical parts. Stylistically, the result is jazz material that while intricately designed still allows room for improvisation and a sextet whose performances often suggest that of a small jazz orchestra.
The album opens rather tentatively with piano and trumpet gestures, but soon enough the activity level heats up as “Miracle Moon Nano” develops. Call-and-response episodes between the horns and sax ensue, and gradually the full ensemble engages in a forceful, forward-motion attack. Olsen, whose playing has been admired in textura's pages before (on Arne Torvik's Northwestern Sounds and Wako & Oslo Strings' Modes for All Eternity), impresses here too in the bright, singing tone with which he voices his lines; no matter how dense the playing becomes, he always manages to cut through. Pedersen distinguishes himself with an extended solo turn on “Rødssalg NE,” his adventurous explorations responsively supported by the leader, Wildhagen, and Jerve in their accompaniment, after which the initially becalmed “Seekers of the Origin” provides Granseth a similar opportunity to extemporize; though but a minute long, the solo improvisation “Curtain 2 - Embracing” features the leader in an appealing spotlight of his own.
The punchiest of the tunes is definitely “Parallel Opposite,” which Albertsen created by combining “En Glassdør” with “RødssalG nE.” With Olsen squealing, the horns wailing, and the rhythm section stoking fire, the performance broils tumultuously for five commanding minutes. Technically, eighteen bars are played and then played in reverse for the next eighteen, and a new instrument enters with the same motif after every nine bars, resulting in a “cacophonic canon” (Albertsen's own words). Though the playing in this case isn't light years removed from the kind of thing Tim Berne might do with one of his bands, “Entering Parallel Opposite” is almost Mingus-ian in the robustness of the playing and the multi-layered interplay of the front-line. At album's end, “En Glassdør” sees the group indulging in the album's closest approximation of traditional jazz; multiple solo turns surface amidst the written parts and the music swings with exuberant abandon for much of it.In truth, the sci-fi narrative's ultimately less important in its specific story details than how it operated as a creative spur for Albertsen's music-making. Regardless, it's one of those projects that holds up whether one listens to it with attention paid to its intricate structural design or experiences it in pure musical terms and the technical details set aside. As “Parallel Opposite” illustrates, awareness of the compositional background certainly enhances one's appreciation for what the composer's doing, but RødssalG nEEn GlassdøR engages as effectively when experienced on a more immediate level. Either way the trip is eventful, unpredictable, wide-ranging, and never less than stimulating.