Primary Instrument: Guitar
Eivind Aarset is a guitarist with a unique musical vision that absorbs and reflects all manner of music while retaining an enviable individualism and high quality craftsmanship that can span from quiet intimacy to searing intensity. His debut as a bandleader on Jazzland Recordings was described by The New York Times as One of the best post-Miles electric jazz albums, setting a high benchmark that Aarset has consistently met and exceeded, both in the studio and in live performance.
As one of Norway's most in-demand guitarists, Eivind Aarset has worked with Bill Laswell, Dhafer Youssef, Jon Hassell, Jan Garbarek, Paolo Fresu, Marilyn Mazur, J.Peter Schwalm, Talvin Singh, and Andy Sheppard. He works regularly with Nils Petter Molvær's band, (appearing on all of Molvær's albums, including the breakthrough album Khmer and 2005's award-winning ER). He also is a regular collaborator with Dhafer Youssef, both live and in the studio.
Aarset's musical awakening happened when, at the age of 12, he heard Jimi Hendrix. I started on the guitar as soon as I heard him, he recalls with a smile. I bought a second hand Hendrix record and that was it. Then I started getting into rock bands like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Santana and Pink Floyd before my brother introduced me to the music of Miles Davis, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report and Return to Forever. After a while, I got into the ECM sound of Jan Garbarek, and Terje Rypdal, who was a big influence. Then I went on the road with a fulltime heavy metal band, a fantastic experience, until I got tired of being angry every night! Then I quit and became a session musician.
As part of the band, Ab Und Zu, he created the unique guitar style and sound he would later develop further as part of saxophonist Bendik Hofseth's group. However, it was his involvement with Bugge Wesseltoft and the Oslo Jazz underground that crystallized the sound he was seeking: What drew me to this music was the hypnotic grooves and musical freedom I found, says Eivind. There's no established rules or tradition in what I am doing, you can make the rules up as you go along. Rhythm is the centre of the music, the landscape the soloist travels through. It's fresh territory and I have no idea where this scene will end up, but there's a lot of great sounds and new music being created which makes it such an exciting scene.
In 1998, Aarset released Electronique Noire, his debut as a bandleader, and among the first Jazzland releases. Critics cast about for description that fitted the album: Post rock; Nu Jazz; Post Miles Ambient; and Drum 'n' Bass Fusion are among the many efforts, yet none truly captures the unlikely match of diversity and coherence that the album displays. During this time, Aarset was working and touring with Nils Petter Molvær, recording on the trumpeter's landmark album Khmer (and each Molvær album since). As Molvær broke through, gaining an international listenership, many fans found their way to Electronique Noire and the initial, mind-bending impact of the album opener, Dark Moisture, is still a popular topic of discussion among Aarset fans.
The next album, Light Extracts, had much to live up to, and did not disappoint. Again, ambience and club rhythms were present, but the music was becoming a truly separate organism. Where Electronique Noire has tracks that could be individually described in terms of genre(s), Light Extracts offered music that could only be described in terms of Aarset-ness. The album features the bass clarinet of Hans Ulrik, an artist Aarset met when recording with Marilyn Mazur's Future Song; Ulrik's sound would lend the album a whole new dimension, and he has appeared on each release since. Aarset retains melodic elements, and uses sound as poetry or painting, somehow anchoring it in definite imagery rather than the abstract. Of course, many critics visualize a wintering far-northern Nordic landscape, complete with fjords and whalesong; however, the soundscapes could equally represent deserts, jungles or even desolate alien mountains. The music speaks to a universal spirit.
Connected marked yet another leap up on Aarset's evolutionary ladder and sits like a prelude to a manifesto. Connected perfectly captures Aarset's working method. His musical world is uniquely his, and the vocabulary of his guitar describes it as no one else could. The music has become self-referential, yet manages to retain warmth and openness. The overtly club music aspects of the sound have been fully consumed, and are accompanied by a new glitchiness, courtesy of Jan Bang, Erik Honoré and Raymond Pellicer. Aarset's reflexivity progresses boldly, offering Changing Waltz, a variation and re-visioning of Empathic Guitar from Light Extracts. Unburdened by the history of electric guitar and guitarists, Aarset erases any of the potential egoism of being a guitarist with a Zen-like calm in favor of stronger musical statements. In addition to Hans Ulrik's clarinet comes Dhafer Youssef's oud and voice, bringing the electronic and the acoustic to a new equilibrium rarely achieved.
Most recently, Aarset has appeared on the album Jazzland Community, a document of the 2006/07 tour featuring Bugge Wesseltoft, Sidsel Endresen, Håkon Kornstad, Marius Reksjø¸ and Wetle Holte. Two Aarset tracks appear, Connectic and Electromagnetic, and two ensemble pieces: The tour was a great experience for me, says Aarset. I loved the way our different styles and concepts worked together and came out as a whole unified concert, not just different acts in one show. And the collective improvisation at the end of each concert was amazing. It was always happening. Sonic Codex, Aarset's forth Jazzland release, is perhaps the strongest album he has produced so far. Sonic Codex takes concepts from his earlier albums, restates, elaborates, and then amplifies them to create a true masterwork that may well be a defining moment in both Aarset's career and the history of Jazzland. The album's title is a perfect summary of its hour-long contents: it is a SONIC CODEX. It puts forward Aarset's rules of engagement with the listener, and very deliberately quotes and redefines the musicality that made up his previous three albums, Electronique Noire, Light Extracts, and Connected, yet also points his way forward; it is an innovative present that simultaneously summarizes the past, and predicts the future.
Taken from various venues, and with slight variations of personnel, Live Extracts retains the unity of feeling and purpose found on Aarset's studio work, yet is constructed from a completely different perspective. The dynamism of the live sets offers the listener a fresh perspective on familiar material, often sounding completely reimagined. However, the distinctive approach is clearly that of Eivind Aarset, albeit less distilled or refined: this is the raw ore of his imagination, often bold, energetic, and untamed, yet capable of moments of stillness, tenderness and cool composure. It is an expressionistic version of his sonic world, but never falls into self-indulgence - ego takes a distant backseat, instead allowing the interplay of the musicians to grow both inside and out the song structures that Aarset's fanbase know so well, creating something utterly new in the process. The opening and closing tracks, although growing to and from separate established pieces from the Aarset oeuvre, are superb examples of spontaneous music, filled with atmosphere and delicate brilliance. Echoes of Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis also resound in Electromagnetic and Sign of Seven respectively, but are driven through a very Aarset filter. For fans, this will be an affirmation of their zeal for his music. And for those who have never experienced Eivind Aarset's live performances, Live Extracts will be a revelation, one that will make them pay very close attention to concert listings in future.
The two years since avant guitarist Aarset's last opus, Light Extracts, have been filled with several major shifts in direction. Up until now (at least outside his native Norway), his name's been, err, connected mainly with jazz 'n' bass trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer. Yet, apart from last year's triumphant appearance with Molvaer at the ICA (performing a live soundtrack to Lang's Metropolis), he's been using new, younger collaborators to push his work in fresh directions. Connected bears the fruits of those endeavours.
Two key names in the aforementioned change in direction have been Dhafer Youssef, the Parisian-based singer and oud player on whose album Digital Prophecy he made a major contribution, and fellow Norwegian electronica man-of-the-moment, Jan Bang. It's the latter who makes the biggest impact on Aarset's sound here. While only appearing on a couple of tracks, both his and fellow boffin Raymond Pellicer's digital trickery have led Aarset to tone down his dance-oriented leanings and get a whole lot more subtle in his approach.
Whereas Light Extractstook you from vertiginous loops to sheer noise terror, Connected's delights emerge in the details. Glitchy wobbles and shimmies worry at the periphery while Aarset's guitar, rather than screaming for attention, morphs from spy-movie twang (Connectic) to muezzin call allowing both bass and drums (courtesy of Marius Reksjo and Wetle Holte) to explore the groove, or giving way to the delights of Hans Ulrik's bass clarinet (Electro Magnetic in E) and saxophone (Feverish).
Eivind moves in both directions away from the nu-jazz cul de sac that also pigeonholes Molvaer. He does this by embracing both electronica (Family Pictures 1 & 2), and returning to more traditional jazz and blues forms. Blue In E is a lovely study in string-bending ease while stand-out track Silk Worm takes label boss Bugge Wesseltoft's funky template and adds Aarset's own distinctive, yearning bleakness. In between all this there's still time to pay respect to world fusion (with Dhafer Youssef on Nagabo Tomora) and the usual beaty mash-ups that we've come to expect from our Scanadinavian friends.
In doing this the guitarist transcends any preconceptions thatthe instrument comes burdened with, and has given us a work that soothes, upsets and excites in equal proportions. Yet again, it seems as though Jazzland is living up to its boast of giving us a new conception in jazz. Matched only by Rune Grammofon's stable of Norwegian young guns, Aarset, along with labelmates Sidsel Endreson, Wesseltoft and Audun Kleive is making sure that all eyes (and ears)remain firmly fixed on the north. Essential.
Chris Jones (2007-06-21)
Eivind Aarset & The Sonic Codex Orchestra, Live Extracts (Jazzland, 2010)
Andy Sheppard, Movements in Colour/em> (ECM, 2009)
Jon Hassell, Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street (ECM, 2009)
Nils Petter Molvær, Hamada (Sula, 2009)
Jan Gunnar Hoff, Magma (Grappa, 2008)
Eivind Aarset, Sonic Codex (Jazzland, 2007)
Jazzland Community, Jazzland Community (Jazzland, 2007) Mike Mainieri, Northern Lights (NYC, 2006)
Dhafer Youssef, Divine Shadows (Jazzland, 2006)
Punkt, Crime Scenes (Punkt, 2006)
Nils Petter Molvær, er (Sula, 2005)
Arild Andersen, Electra (ECM, 2005)
Eivind Aarset, Connected (Jazzland, 2004)
Nils Petter Molvær, Streamer (Sula, 2004)
Ketil Bjørnstad, Nest (Universal, 2003)
Ketil Bjørnstad, Before the Light (Universal Norway, 2002)
Marilyn Mazur, All the Birds (Sunt, 2002) Eivind Aarset., Light Extracts (Jazzland, 2001)
Ab Und Zu, Spark of Life (Curling Legs, 2000)
Marilyn Mazur, Jordsang (Dacapo, 2000)
Arild Andersen, Arv Kirkelig, 1999)
Eivind Aarset, Electronique Noire (Jazzland, 1998) Nils Petter Molvær, Khmer (ECM, 1997)
Bendik Hofseth, Colours (Sonet,1997) Marilyn Mazur's Future Song, Small Labyrinths (ECM, 1997)
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