Sonar — Static Motion
(Cuneiform Rune 374, 2014, CD)
by Peter Thelen, Published 2014-01-02
It seems like only a few weeks ago I was reviewing Sonar’s previous album A Flaw of Nature, and much of that same feeling is coming back to me now as I review this one, underscoring the Swiss based ensemble’s unique style based on self-imposed limitations, restrictions and intentful pursuit of minimalism. First and foremost are the tritones that both guitarists and bass have tuned their strings to: only C or F# are allowed within Sonar’s world. Second, this is not really rock, not jazz either; in reality it’s deft ensemble work based on crafty instrumental interplay, with little room for any flashy soloing. The two guitarists (Bernhard Wagner and Stephan Thelen, the latter also composer and bandleader) are continually playing off one another’s complex mathematical musings as they move forward, growing the sound from sparse interactions on open-string harmonics to more powerful full-on electrified passages, and back again. The compositions are very natural and open, and almost seem like well-rehearsed improvisations where some strict parameters are set, and then the four players follow through on it. But the responsive way that the bass and drums flow and ebb the depth of the sound and manage the fragmentary minimalist approach throughout most of this belies any notions of pure improvisation. Occasionally, as on the closer “Vertical Time,” there are some lengthy passages of dark ambiance that add to the overall mysteriousness. Occasionally, one might be reminded of magical moments on the many great albums by Philharmonie. One thing that needs to be said, however: this is a long album, clocking in at just under 70 minutes, and given the ensemble’s confinements, the nine pieces do get samey after a while. While listening, I occasionally wonder what an additional lead instrument, like a sax or violin, could contribute to their sound. The skeletal minimalism which is one of the beauties of Sonar’s craft would of course be lost, but the occasional interception of a melodic lead instrument might add something worthwhile to the mix of ideas. All taken though, this is another excellent adventure from the first note to the last.
Jon Christensen RIP – Word reaches us today of the passing of Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen, a musician whose sensitive playing did much to help define the atmospheric sound of ECM jazz recordings. His work with Jan Garbarek, Bobo Stenson, Terje Rypdal, and many more was sensitive and varied, adapting to a wide variety of styles while maintaining a distinct identity of its own. Christensen was 76. » Read more
Gong Announces UK Tour for 2020 – Having spent the last few years touring the world, including dates in Japan with psych legend Steve Hillage, multiple headline European tours and festivals, America’s Cruise to the Edge festival, a South America headline tour, and a headline performance at Tomorrow Festival in China, the band have won the hearts of both traditional and modern Gong fanbases. During this live journey, Gong has delved further into the truly psychedelic, exploratory, and mind-expanding side of the music. » Read more
Wolfgang Dauner RIP – Pianist Wolfgang Dauner, one of the pioneers of both European free jazz and jazz rock, has died at the age of 84. With his own groups and with the United Jazz+Rock Ensemble, his playing and compositions were a prominent presence in European jazz from the mid-60s until just recently. » Read more
Michael Allison RIP – Michael Allison, who since 1997 has been recording as Darshan Ambient, passed away on January 9th after a long and brave battle with cancer. He has been at at the forefront of the new ambient/electronic music scene, with over eighteen releases to his credit. » Read more