When music historians describe our current period of contemporary music, some consideration should be given to the extraordinary range of the artists that produced it. At one end, young laptop warriors making beautiful noise out of makeshift home studios. At the other, the 21st century’s great composers and performance ensembles. Part of the appeal – and reach, for that matter – of today’s new music is this broad spectrum of artistic vision.
Since its debut recording in 2006, Dans les arbres has earned a spot at the right end of this spectrum. The group features France’s Xavier Charles on clarinet, and from Norway, Ivar Grydeland on electric guitar, Christian Wallumrød on piano and Ingar Zach on percussion. Their brand of improvisation strikes a perfect balance. Neither too dense nor sparse. Not under- or overwhelming.
Which is not to suggest that it finds the middle of any road. Dans les arbres delivers meticulously crafted improvisations that take full advantage of every one of the quartet’s instruments. Often all at once.
Volatil is album no. 4, and the first to feature one single piece recorded live. At 53-plus minutes, this joins a long list of what can fairly be described as commitment-works: pieces that appeal to listeners with a healthy attention span. In this case, you will be richly rewarded.
Recorded in March 2018 and mastered by Italian composer Giuseppe Ielasi, Volatil occupies that meandering, intrepid space between new classical and free jazz. Wallumrød’s piano and Zach’s percussion lean toward the former, Charles’ clarinet to the latter. That makes Grydeland’s electric guitar a kind of x-factor. It fits into no clear category and yet goes a long way toward defining what makes Dans les arbres special.
The quartet has shared the stage with Yumiko Tanaka, Otomo Yoshihide, Jim O ́Rourke, Vilde & Inga, The Norwegian Wind Ensemble and others. They have given more than 150 concerts in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and throughout Europe.