Vladislav Delay: Tummaa

Sasu Ripatti continues to blaze his idiosyncratic trail on Tummaa, his first Vladislav Delay outing under that moniker since 2007's Whistleblower and the first on Leaf after a five-year string of releases on his own Huume label. There's little need to revisit familiar biographical ground here; suffice it so say that Ripatti has been pursuing his distinctive muse for a decade or so under a variety of aliases, the most prominent and influential being his Vladislav Delay and Luomo guises. The new recording is notable on other counts too: it's the first Delay recording to appear in the wake of Ripatti's 2008 return to Finland after seven years in Berlin, plus it's a collaborative project of sorts, with Ripatti joined by pianist Craig Armstrong (who previously collaborated with Ripatti and Ante Greie on the 1995 album The Dolls ) and Lucio Capece on clarinet and saxophone. Much has been made of the fact that in the new recording Ripatti opts for a more organic and acoustic approach in his choice of instrumentation, with him indulging a re-awakened interest in drums and percussion and de-emphasizing electronics; be that as it may, the Vladislav Delay sensibility at work remains similar in spirit to the one established on the early groundbreakers Entain and Multila. In particular, “Tummaa” (which means “Dark” or “Darkness”), its lurching movement suggestive of a diseased and stumbling colossus, exhumes the glacial, dub-inflected style of the aforementioned earlier albums.

Most of the pieces are in the ten-minute range, a generous length that gives the music room to mutate and pursue divergent paths. The trademark Delay lurch is present—Delay tracks possess little of the buoyant forward thrust of Ripatti's Luomo material—with the album's pieces often crawling in fractured half-steps. Though Ripatti trained as a jazz drummer, his percussive approach evidences little trace of traditional jazz's swing; in that regard, it's fitting that he abandoned the instrument ten years ago when he realized how little his conception had in common with existing drumming approaches.

Though, as mentioned, Ripatti is joined by Armstrong and Capece, it's Armstrong whose presence is most felt as a collaborator (five of the seven tracks are co-credited to him) with many of the pieces feeling like Armstrong and Ripatti improvising toe-to-toe (in fact, the production process was quite different: Ripatti first recorded his drum parts, then invited Capece to his studio to improvise alongside the drums, while Armstrong contributed solo piano recordings created specifically for the project; with said materials on hand, Ripatti then shaped the materials into the album's music). As he does elsewhere, Armstrong humanizes the alien percussive clatter of Delay's sound design in “Melankolia” with melancholy yet elegant piano playing. Similarly, in “Kuula (Kiitos)” (translated as “Bullet (Thank You)”), Armstrong's Rhodes playing adds warmth to Delay's stop-start percussive punctuations and Capece's fluttering mutations of bass clarinet and soprano sax. Elsewhere, “Mustelmia” (“Bruises”) marries the bass clarinet's frog-like croak to what starts out as a surprisingly straightforward and propulsive beat pattern but which gradually splinters into a liquid mass of tribal swizzle. A plodding and steadily-building rhythm threatens to obliterate the alien wildlife calls that commune throughout “Toive” (“Wish”) until a breakdown inaugurates a funkier episode (a rarity in the Delay world) that's a tad reminiscent of Paul Schütze's Phantom City recordings (the Laswell-like bass sound in particular).

Despite the fact that the album includes a track titled “Tunnelivisio” (“Tunnel Vision”), Tummaa represents a concerted effort on Ripatti's part to move outside of his hermetic sound world; bringing collaborators such as Armstrong and Capece into the fold is certainly one way for Ripatti to keep his music healthy and alive. At the same time, his sensibility is so personalized that any project he turns his attention to will invariably have his fingerprints over it, and Tummaa is no exception. Despite appearances, it isn't a radical break from the past but isn't a retread of established ground either. Think of it instead as the next chapter in Ripatti's yet-to-be-completed story.

September 2009