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Huntsville - For the Middle Classes

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Artist: Huntsville

Album: For the Middle Classes

Label: Rune Grammofon

Review date: Mar. 28, 2007

The members of the Norwegian trio Huntsville – guitarist Ivar Grydeland, bassist Tonny Klutten and percussionist Ingar Zach – all have extensive experience as free improvisers, having worked with the likes of Pat Thomas, Tony Oxley and Derek Bailey. That makes the music on this album all the more remarkable; one would never guess the players’ histories from these sounds. The initial impression is of highly rhythmic grooves driven along relentlessly by drums or drum machines. Given that the two longer tracks here last over 15 and 22 minutes, respectively, that could have been a recipe for tedium.

Thankfully, that is where the trio’s history and creativity come into their own. Despite the instrumentation hinted at above, the truth is far more diverse and interesting than a guitar/bass/drums trio; each player is a multi-instrumentalist who draws on sounds from a range of styles and cultures. First time around, I thought that lots of them must have been sampled; turns out, there is a radio in there, and Ingar Zach does use a tabla machine rather than actually playing tablas, but otherwise the banjo, pedal steel guitar, glockenspiel, acoustic and electric guitar etc are all played, not replicated.

On the opener, the intriguingly titled “Appearance Of A Wise Child,” as if to counter the predictability of the steady tabla rhythm, all the other elements are far more unpredictable; not unpredictably weird, but unpredictable enough to keep us on our toes. In other words, fun. There’s the short passage of acoustic guitar appearing out of the blue then disappearing just as quickly; the low fuzz-bass rumble making odd interjections; rhythm undercutting rhythm, all of which makes the end product refreshingly hard to pigeonhole.

“Serious Like A Pope” is in complete contrast, but just as original. A series of overlapping modulated drones laid over an underlying sitar-like drone give the piece a tranquil mesmeric quality. The longest track, and centerpiece of the album, is “Add A Key Of Humanity.” We are back to the territory of the opener, a steady rhythm plus interjections, including electronic swirls, detuned electric guitar – and after a while, it is not remotely surprising to hear the arrival of a riffing banjo, as it seems possible for anything to emerge out of this fray. A stimulating, sometimes funny, and always enjoyable album.

By John Eyles

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