Christian Wallumrød Ensemble: The Zoo Is Far (ECM 2005)

The Zoo Is Far

Christian Wallumrød Ensemble
The Zoo Is Far

Christian Wallumrød piano, harmonium, toy piano
Arve Henriksen trumpet
Gjermund Larsen violin, Hardanger fiddle, viola
Tanja Orning cello
Giovanna Pessi baroque harp
Per Oddvar Johansen drums, percussion, glockenspiel
Recorded October 2006, Radio Studio DRS, Zürich
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Christian Wallumrød’s evolving ensemble makes its return to ECM as a sextet with The Zoo Is Far. On this, his fourth album for the label, the Norwegian pianist-composer draws from sourced and spontaneous material. It is perhaps his most “classical” album, if only for the added inspirations of cellist Tanja Orning, Norwegian fiddler Gjermund Larsen, and baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi—along with mainstays Arve Henriksen on trumpet and Per Oddvar Johnansen on percussion. Although Wallumrød is the heart and soul of the ensemble, his presence is more often ghostly than physical. For while his pianism erects brooding infrastructures for “Nash Lontano” and the Platonic cave of the title track, in “Parkins Cembalo” he lurks behind a harmonium, evoking trembling fear. On a deeper level, the embers of his gifts brighten with compositional prowess. The five descriptive “Fragments” scattered throughout the program alone show formidable thematic breadth. What begins as a Ravel-like blush might suddenly bleed across the page in the semantics of George Crumb or rustle like cattails in a breeze. Such changes are part and parcel of Wallumrød’s flora, which draw nourishment from eclectic resources indeed. “Music For One Cat,” for example, takes its inspiration from Mehdi Hassan (then still with us), a Pakistani ghazal singer known for his divine throat and passion for the cinema. The slink-tailed gait leaves no question about the title, disappearing one strand of fur at a time until only the eyes are left glowing in the dark.

“Arch Dance” and “Detach” are further confirmation of Wallumrød’s pen, both split into themes and variations. Prismatic and moonlit, they are touched by despair and folk sensibilities, walking the thin edge of being and nonbeing that separates them. “Need Elp” foils all of these with its angelic sheen. It pushes through glass as if it were water and touches feet to pond’s surface as if it were glass.

The Fantasias of late seventeenth-century composer Henry Purcell are the basis for three so-called “Backwards Henry” pieces. These at once mark the album’s grasp on the past and its interest in the future. As one known for his harmonic invention and ear for color, Purcell makes for compelling company to Wallumrød’s own “Psalm Kvæn,” which takes form in solo, trio, quartet, and tutti iterations, each an expression of the in-between. As in the concluding “Allemande Es,” the respect for history becomes a figure unto itself, standing at the edge of its own grave, into which it stares longingly for the release of silence’s puppet strings.

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