Christian Wallumrød Ensemble: Outstairs (ECM 2289)


Christian Wallumrød Ensemble

Christian Wallumrød piano, harmonium, toy piano
Eivind Lønning trumpet
Gjermund Larsen violin, Hardanger fiddle, viola
Espen Reinertsen tenor saxophone
Tove Törngren cello
Per Oddvar Johansen drums, vibraphone
Recorded May 2013, Auditorio Radiotelevisione svizzera, Lugano
Engineer: Markus Heiland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

With Outstairs, pianist Christian Wallumrød has taken chamber jazz to new levels of intimacy, redefining its parameters and capabilities with atmospheric profundity. He achieves this through no small measure of humility, by which he imbues the music with the color of invitation. The risk is that, once you step through it, his door might never let you out again. Such is the irony of the album’s title, which promises escape yet embodies the reflective side of a two-way mirror.


The title of the fifth track, “Startic,” is a suitable adjective to describe the cellular approach of Wallumrød and his ensemble. Each piece feels like the beginning of another, ad infinitum, until a sense of the whole begins to emerge, by which time your brain has already been soldered in. The dark pulse of “Stille Rock” begins at the piano before drummer Per Oddvar Johansen and fiddler Gjermund Larsen spin flesh around the ivory. With pathos not heard since Górecki’s Lerchenmusik, it nurtures a patchwork of unfinished sentences, which only the listener may complete.

Wallumrød Ensemble

Subsequent references abound. Whether intentional or not is immaterial, for no matter how much of their clothing has been worn before, Wallumrød’s alterations eat new fashion for breakfast. Some, like the Morton Feldman-esque “Very Slow” and the microtonal “Beatknit” (which resembles an abstracted compression of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin), are more obvious. Others, like “Bunadsbangla” and “Tridili #2,” feel as if we should know them. Grounded by deep beats and lathered up with bubbling chords, they are the soundtracks to films not yet made. The soothing tenor of saxophonist Espen Reinersten and earthy strains of cellist Tove Törngren are silhouettes of trees in the latter excursions, while Wallumrød’s harmonium and Eivind Lønning’s trumpet percolate through the leaves in the form of sunlight. These absorbent textures cloak an outer resonance in the guise of a seventh band member.

The album’s remainder is for the most part percussively centered. Regardless of instrument or title—be it in the brushstrokes of “Folkskiss” or the toy piano of “Ornament,” the darker sustains of “Third Try” or biological crop circles of the title track—an underlying clockwork reveals itself in every rustling and reedy song. As title of the concluding “Exp” implies, this program represents a leveling up for the ensemble. And as its final climbs find themselves lured by whispers of a forgotten darkness now returned as a gift, we have no option but to succumb to the heat of understanding. The lava is our birthplace, and it is to the lava we must return.

This reality, unglued.

(To hear samples of Outstairs, click here.)

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