I am so in love with this record.
It’s funny though because after my first few listens to this record I would never have thought that I would feel this way. It’s exceptionally slow paced. It’s very diverse and challenging. It needs lots of time and careful attention. Thankfully, at work, I have plenty time to listen to music on my headphones and I was able to give this record the time, care and attention that it truly deserves. It needs it. But if you can give it that time and immerse yourself in it then I think you will fall in love with it too.
The Alvaret Ensemble is a combination of a number of talented musicians. Musicians who were friends who had come together in the past, during live shows, to play improvised numbers and sets. This live improvisation lead to the idea that it would be possible/fun to get together and record a whole albums worth of improvised material. And they achieve this in some style with this simply brilliant record.
Based primarily around the piano playing of Greg Haines, this work is rich and dense and comes alive time and again with the spoken word offerings of Jan Kleefstra and the instrumentation of his brother Romke, Sytze Pruiksma, Peter Broderick, Hilary Jeffrey and more.
Now, normally I find spoken word to be a difficult strand in music, something that really did put me off Farewell Poetry actually. For me it’s all about the delivery of the words and fortunately Kleefstra’s restrained, delicacy adds such depth to the music on offer that it sucks you in rather than detracts from the musical score. It doesn’t matter that I cannot understand what is being said as, much like any good vocal, it’s the tone and delivery that turns this into another instrument within the dark textures of the walls of sound surrounding.
There is a really lovely part of a recent conversation I had with the artist Kinth (to be published soon) where he explains that during a difficult part of his life he learned to understand silence and the importance of it in the world and in music. And that, for me, is where the true beauty of this remarkable record lies – understanding the importance of silence and restraint in the overall landscape of a record. Rather than all the instruments in this ensemble battling for the spotlight, this record is a triumph of restraint and control. Each artist appears to completely understand the role of the others and there is a mutual acceptance and realisation that the real impact of noise, for there is noise, has to be punctuated with silence and beauty and calm. When the noise comes it is all the more impressive for the restraint shown before. Not that this is a noisy record. It is dark and cold for the most part with Kleeftra’s words floating on the cold winter air and tying all the strands together in such a perfect way.
It’s only March so it’s always a bit early to shout about records of the year but I can all but guarantee that The Alvaret Ensemble will be appearing on my end of year list for 2013. This is music at its best. It’s brave. It’s challenging. It’s unpredictable. It’s diverse. It’s exciting. It of course was an experiment but this just makes it all the more outstanding. I cannot recommend this record highly enough and hope that it’s just the first offerings from an exciting group of musicians.
Check out The Alvaret Ensemble here. Enjoy