Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ingebrigt Haker Flaten's "Steel" and "Birds"

A package arrived containing two CDs of solo bass improvisations by Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, a Norwegian currently based in Austin whom I'd first heard on a collaboration with Dennis Gonzalez that the trumpeter released last year on his daagnim label. Now Flaten has a label of his own, and his first releases are a 2010 acoustic recital from Bucharest (Steel) and a 2007 electric studio foray (Birds).

While "two albums worth of solo bass" might inspire bad jokes ("Always bad when drums stop -- that when bass solo start"), I was recently reminded (by time spent with Anthony Braxton's For Alto and Roscoe Mitchell's Nonaah) that solo recitals were a required rite of passage for '60s and '70s AACM musicians, and Flaten's a musician with a wide enough sonic palette to make the venture worthwhile, reminding us that true improvisation is spontaneous composition.

On Steel, Flaten combines technical facility with depth of expression in a manner that recalls past masters like Paul Chambers, Wilbur Ware, Charlie Haden, and Malachi Favors. His attack can turn percussive, whether he's playing pizzicato or arco. At other times, his lines have a vocalized quality, and he's a master of bowed harmonics that can make his bass sound like a reed instrument or a whole string section, even without electronic augmentation. The intimate recording lets you hear the slapping of strings on wood and the booming resonance of that big boat hull.

On Birds, Flaten employs an arsenal of electronic effects to make his bass sound like Japanese flutes, a Hendrixoid guitar, an angry insect, or a Fourth of July fireworks display. The music unfolds episodically, recalling the '60s and '70s masterworks of Stockhausen, Takehisa Kosugi, and Richard Pinhas (on the tour de force "Chicago," Flaten sounds like nothing so much as a one-man Heldon). Together, these two discs sound like the foundation for a body of work, whetting the listener's appetite to hear Flaten's other ensembles.


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