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Arve Henriksen - Chiaroscuro

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Artist: Arve Henriksen

Album: Chiaroscuro

Label: Rune Grammofon

Review date: Jul. 18, 2004

Arve Henriksen has an unusual set of influences, including throat singing, electronics and a number of types of non-western music. The most prominent among them on Chiaroscuro is traditional Japanese music: Henriksen’s trumpet playing often sounds like a shakuhachi, a Japanese end-blown flute with a breathy sound. Henriksen’s ability to recreate the timbre of the shakuhachi on another instrument and his imitation of the phrasing style of traditional honkyoku shakuhachi players is nothing short of amazing. I’ve never heard a trumpet sound like this before.

But honkyoku playing, in which a musician plays alone and develops very personal interpretations of a small collection of pieces, is often deeply idiosyncratic. It involves the use of unusual sounds that mimic sounds in nature, as well as the use of strangely tuned pitches and long pauses. The accompaniment to Henriksen’s trumpet playing - mostly echoing, woozy-sounding, and diatonic electronics provided by Henriksen and Jan Bang - flattens idiosyncrasies rather than highlighting them. Chiaroscuro’s pristine, humorless, benignly pretty electronics and reverb-bath production often make the album seem like a bad ECM effort or a new age record with a shakuhachi soloist – which itself isn’t too hard to imagine.

It isn’t fair to just call Chiaroscuro new age and leave it at that, of course. The issue isn’t quite that simple: for one thing, Audun Kleive’s drum patterns aren’t nearly obvious enough to appear on a new age album. And Chiaroscuro is very well-conceived and graceful, which already puts it light years ahead of Henriksen’s similarly pristine, humorless, benignly pretty band Supersilent. But Henriksen’s trumpet playing – and his high, keening vocals, which are usually present when he’s not playing trumpet – are too good and too weird to waste on accompaniment like this. Chiaroscuro is way too emotionally melochromatic; some dirt under the fingernails would go a long way.

By Charlie Wilmoth

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