Arve Henriksen: Towards Language
Rune Grammofon

Like Jon Hassell, Lester Bowie, and, of course, Miles Davis, Arve Henriksen is a member of that small, elite club of trumpet players whose voices can be identified by a single note. Downplaying the instrument's inherent brassiness, the Norwegian opts for a soft, caressing tone whose purr many have likened, legitimately, to a flute or shakahuchi. Towards Language, his ninth album under his own name, is both quintessential Henriksen and light years removed from the aggressive style associated with the improv free noise trio Supersilent, of which he's a founding member.

On the thirty-eight-minute release, drums are absent and bass, too, save for two tracks on which Erik Honoré plays synth bass. In terms of character, the material is subdued, the mood ponderous, and the tempos slow, conditions that lend themselves perfectly to an album-length presentation of Henriksen's artistry. Though there's no shortage of recorded Henriksen from which to choose—in addition to the solo and Supersilent releases, he's appeared on more than 100 recordings by David Sylvian, Jon Balke, Trygve Seim, Imogen Heap, Arild Andersen, and others—any listener looking for a sampling of his inimitable horn playing to bask in need look no further than this one. The accompanists are key to the album's sound, too, with long-standing collaborators Jan Bang and Honoré taking part (as they did on his classic 2004 set Chiaroscuro), as well as guitarist Eivind Aarset and, on the closing track, vocalist Anna Maria Friman (Trio Mediæval).

Emblematic of the album's intimate character is “Patient Zero,” which opens the collection with the leader delicately emoting supported by nothing more than Aarset's textural strokes, after which Honoré's synth bass animates “Groundswell” whilst retaining the music's languor and reflective spirit. Here and elsewhere, Henriksen's soloing takes on a free-floating, vocal-like quality that's totally captivating, so much so that one's awareness of other elements falls to the wayside during these solo turns. Though the album-closing “Paridae,” which includes a traditional ‘kven' (ancient Nordic song tradition) theme, is brief, it leaves a lasting impression thanks to the lovely vocal Friman contributes to the hymn-like ballad. That said, Henriksen's playing is never more affecting than during the mournful meditation “Hibernal,”and even when a setting is more mood piece (“Realign,” for example) than melodic composition, Towards Language remains compelling whenever he puts the horn to his lips.

June 2017