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Nilsson / Sandell / Strid - Beam Stone

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Artist: Nilsson / Sandell / Strid

Album: Beam Stone

Label: Psi

Review date: May. 7, 2009

The Swedish trio Beam Stone formed in October 2006, but this is its first recording. Its members had history beforehand - pianist Sten Standell and percussionist Raymond Strid worked together in the trio Gush with saxophonist Mats Gustaffson. Crucially for Beam Stone, Standell also collaborated in a duo with Per Anders Nilsson, in which Nilsson sampled and manipulated Standell’s voice and piano, a methodology used again here.

Since the early ‘90s, Nilsson (originally a saxophonist) has used the computer as a musical instrument, and is credited here with computer and synthesizer. Standell is credited with electronics (in addition to piano, prepared piano and voice). So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, while a freely improvised recording, Beam Stone goes beyond the free jazz roots of improv, with an impressionistic approach that shares more with ambient or contemporary composition.

Across 12 pieces, ranging from under a minute to eight and a half, the three share equal responsibility for the music, which radiates taste and restraint. Strid’s percussion is vital - he eschews the role of rhythmic powerhouse, opting for subtle interjections and textural punctuation. Of its working methods, the trio states, “All kinds of sounds, ‘musical’ and ‘non-musical’ are used under the motto: Each sound has its own narrative!” Sandell’s piano is central throughout, though it’s hard to tell whether he’s contributing live or via Nilsson’s computer. The piano interacts and blends with the ‘non-musical’ sounds supplied by Nilsson, including washes of sound that could derive from natural phenomena.

In keeping with the group name, all the pieces are titled after geological terms, some more dramatic than others, such as “Microseism” and “Contact Metamorphism.” While clearly not intended as program music, the pieces frequently convey apt drama and tension. For instance, a microseism is a faint earth tremor (bless you, wikipedia) and the low frequency rumble of Standell’s piano and its aftermath eloquently conjure that up.

In keeping with the overall concept, the album’s packaging features photographs of a series of sculptures by Ken Gill, made from stone, glass and gold or silver leaf, that are obviously constructed but have a fascinating natural beauty. Surely no coincidence that they are used to house this music.

By John Eyles

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