Food – Mecurial Balm (ECM/ Fuse)

mercurial balm

There’s something about improvised music, particularly electro acoustic improvised music that rings alarm bells. Unless it’s reigned in it can be a real mess, where it distinguishes itself as improvisation by the wanton egos, self-indulgence and ultimately tuneless masturbation. But what if you get not just great musicians, who expand the scope of their instrument, but players playing for the music, not just to hear themselves over the others?

This is at times a six piece, part jazz, part electronics but they play with such subtlety, such touch that you rarely believe that there could be this many participants.

It’s ostensibly the work of Norwegian drummer Thomas Stronen, and English saxophonist Iain Ballamy. In fact it’s their fifth album, however when you reign in guests like Austrian guitarist and electronics experimentalist Christian Fennesz, or even Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, some control must be relinquished, and to some extent that’s what makes this such a good album.

It stems from live performances in Norway, the UK, and Germany as well as some studio work in Oslo. The key here is that they’re never searching. It feels considered, like they’re creating new forms, actually updating jazz, a genre generally consumed by the past.

Other players include Indian slide guitarist and singer Prakash Sontakke and Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset who both combine on Magnetosphere, with Sontakke pushing it into the realm of the spiritual via his distinctive wailing vocals. It’s an eclectic mix for sure, drawing upon the sensibility of each guest, yet it’s also music about subtlety, about delicate nuances, about texture and space. It’s beautiful lush soundscape music, endlessly fascinating both sonically and structurally, yet at the same time endlessly satisfying, complex and unique, music to drift to.


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