Dans les arbres: Canopée (ECM 2278)


Dans les arbres

Xavier Charles clarinet, harmonica
Ivar Grydeland electric guitar, banjo, sruti box
Christian Wallumrød prepared piano, harmonium
Ingar Zach gran cassa, percussion
Recorded June 2010 at Biermannsgården and April 2011 at Cafeteatret, Oslo
Engineer: Thomas Hukkelberg
Produced by Dans les arbres

If you were to look only at the musicians and their instruments on paper, the music of Dans les arbres would not likely ooze into your mind as it does once you hear it. Xavier Charles’s clarinet indicates classical foundations, while the harmonica next to his name might imply a more itinerant spirit. Ivar Grydeland’s electric guitar and (prepared) banjo reveal a natural born picker, but the sruti box (an Indian drone instrument bellowed like the harmonium) reaches farther afield. Christian Wallumrød will be the most familiar name to ECM listeners. Anyone in possession of his albums will have a leg up on what to expect and find nothing out of the ordinary to see a harmonium also at his fingertips. Finally, percussionist Ingar Zach stands out for listing the gran cassa (orchestral bass drum) as his primary instrument. And indeed, its cavernous thrum is a foundational voice throughout the quartet’s second ECM spelunk.

In my review of the first, self-titled Dans les arbres album, I compared their sound to that of the short-lived Japanese outfit Nijiumu, whose elusive Era of Sad Wings remains the pinnacle of such freely improvised work. This album approaches that ideal even more closely.

With such kindred track titles as “La Fumée” (Smoke), “L’Émanation” (The Emanation), and “L’Immatériel” (The Immaterial), it would seem to make little sense attempting to parse that which cannot be parsed. In this resonant gong-space, we are surrounded by creaking toy chests. Their keyholes burn with shadow and are wonders to behold in the attic light. Downstairs pacing betrays the parents of children who have hidden themselves so long that they have become part of the house. Bells and bowls and other glowing things float like tones of the inner ear made manifest in the form of dust particles and the wings of dead moths. Deep drones and breathy harmonics share only what they embrace, while the in-betweens reach from their wombs, only to withdraw just before making contact with the outside world. Their lungs open as would any book, of which each brachial page swims with adverbs. Hints of machinery linger, but their pathogens are quickly neutralized by the system.

All that said, some of the most intangible cognates (e.g., “La Vapeur” and “L’Éther) name the album’s most tactile creations. In these we discover a heavier mortality at work, as if by means of an intimate machine, of which gears serve as bones and time the marrow that sponges them. Whether by the clarinet’s guttural awakenings or the bass drum’s deepest moon phase, the aqueducts of ancient cities are somehow resurrected only so that they might speak once more before dying, leaving only the metallic drip of virtue to show for their channeling. Like the spaces of “La Transparence” (Transparency), they are pregnant with afterthoughts in such a way that all internal things become external and vice versa, starving the illusion that there was ever a distinction in the first place.

(To hear samples of Canopée, click here.)

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