The Eivind Aarset Quartet - Phantasmagoria, or A Different Kind of Journey

The Eivind Aarset 4tet – Phantasmagoria, or A Different Kind of Journey

What is it about Norway? I mean a lot of English bands and artists seem to have some sort of innate ‘Englishness’ to their music. Norwegians just sound like they’re from a different planet, and perhaps that is why the music emanating from there is so interesting. This album, the latest from guitar innovator and composer Eivind Aarset, is no exception of course. It can veer from the blindingly beautiful one moment to visceral bursts of angst the next, but it is above all else, as the album title suggests, the cinematic soundtrack for a journey. I didn’t get the journey bit at first. The music files arrived, and I listened, and was slightly perplexed. After a few listens, I realised the files had arrived in some kind of random order, so I set about putting them in the intended sequence, and I can hardly believe the difference this made. The album seemed to work so much better, and it proves that sequence matters (I’ve never been a big fan of ‘shuffle’!).

The soundscape for this adventure is modernist but organic, so features, for example, programmed drums, but also log drum and regular percussion. There is Mellotron from time to time, but this sure isn’t the Moody Blues. Sounds are often heavily treated or distorted. Guitars are often recognisable as such, but sometimes not. This is both a primeval jungle, and a voyage to the stars. Intoxication starts us off in a woozy and fuzzy way, like waking up after a heavy night but without the headache. It wanders around in a catatonic haze, disorientated and confused. Intoxication is probably an apt title, and it’s an interesting scene setting piece. Pearl Hunter follows, and is sort of ambient jazz with a bossa nova beat. Watery dribbles of electronics and guitar issue forth, gradually becoming less watery and more assertive. One gets the impression that Mr Aarset has now had his first cup of coffee of the day and the caffeine is beginning to have some effect – the journey has begun. There is a definite sense of momentum which builds as the track gathers pace.

After this opening pair of tracks, we should at least be awake, and the journey continues with Outbound, or Stubb1. No, I don’t know why the album and many of its tracks have alternative titles! The atmosphere changes completely, as if we have moved from rural backwater to a busy urban setting. It sounds like a futuristic kind of place and Aarset leaves inhibition behind and let’s rip with showers of sparks and grinding metallic guitar sounds. It’s a thrilling change of pace and sets the scene perfectly for the longer Duløc, or The Cat’s Eye. The piece evolves gently into a robust improvisation with myriad treated guitars, atmospheric bass and clattering drums exploring their surroundings before pushing ahead into new landscapes.

Distorted trumpet sounds from guest Arve Henriksen announce Manta Ray, providing another new texture for this journey. His trumpet evocatively drifts between background and foreground, like a shoal of fish moving as one entity. Didn’t See This One Coming is another total change in mood, more percussive and edgy, Aarset producing some extraordinary sounds from his guitar over an insistent rhythm. It’s the nearest he gets to shredding, but in the spirit of free jazz, and it’s a joyous din.

Soft Grey Ghosts bring us back down to the atmospheric textural perspective once again, with Tangerine Dream-style electronic washes drifting around, organic drums and bass providing the scenery for a host of almost mournful guitar howls of anguish. Inbound or Stubb2 provides a bookend to Outbound, and suggests a journey nearing completion. Near, but not quite the journey’s end, as final piece Light on Sanzu River provides the setting sun shot at the end of this musical journey, and is a wonderful ambient mindful moment of calm and tranquillity. Remember John Martyn’s Small Hours? Sounds nothing like it really, but it’s that kind of atmosphere, leaving you feeling satisfied and somehow healed.

I just love this album. It paints a picture without words, it is mysterious and misty, speaks sharply when it needs to, but leaves you refreshed and calmer than when you started out. That’s not the easiest thing to achieve, but Eivind Aarset seems to manage it with ease. Another contender for year end lists I think, especially for those with jazz and ambient leanings.

01. Intoxication (8:26)
02. Pearl Hunter (6:57)
03. Outbound, or Stubb1 (5:38)
04. Duløc, or The Cat’s Eye (9:05)
05. Manta Ray, or Soft Spot (7:10)
06. Didn’t See This One Coming (6:36)
07. Soft Grey Ghosts, or Twilight Chamber (7:22)
08. Inbound, or Stubb2 (4:35)
09. Light on Sanzu River, or Dreaming of a Boat (5:53)

Total Time – 61:42

Wetle Holte – Drums, Percussion, Metallophone, Drum Programming, Mellotron (on Outbound), Organ (on Manta Ray)
Erland Dahlen – Drums, Percussion, Log Drum, Vibraphone, Drum Programming (on Soft Grey Ghosts)
Audun Erlien – Bass, Casio Synth (on Intoxication)
Eivind Aarset – Guitar, Electronics, Edits
~ With Guests:
Arve Henriksen – Trumpets (on Manta Ray)
Jan Bang – Samples (on Manta Ray, Didn’t See This One Coming & Soft Grey Ghosts)
John Derek Bishop – Field Recordings & Treatments (on Manta Ray & Light on Sanzu River)

Record Label: Jazzland Recordings
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 24th September 2021

Eivind Aarset – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp