Hilmar Jensson (electric guitar), Jim Black (drums), Andrew D'Angelo (alto saxophone, bass clarinet), Herb Robertson (trumpet), Trevor Dunn (acoustic bass)
The second recording for Songlines by the guitarist of Jim Black's Alasnoaxis is very different from the improv/ambient/collage approach of Tyft (SGL 1542-2, 2002) -- even though its trio of Jensson, Black and Andrew D'Angelo is back. Here an acoustic quintet runs with Jensson's challenging compositions, giving them a rhythmic flair and melodic/harmonic interest that might recall Chris Speed's Yeah No in its balance between offbeat grooves and improvisational freedom, rock extraversion and jazz discipline. Intricate counterpoint from the horns, abrasive guitar solos, constantly shifting metres, and Black's time-bending percussive commentary complete the picture. With a stark but tender emotional underpinning that engages the listener, Jensson lays out his vision of jazz present and jazz future, even if he questions whether jazz is a useful descriptor for his music:
Ever since the early '90s I've had a close relationship with the music and musicians of the "downtown" scene. There are many exciting things happening in Iceland but this is the core of my musical self. New York is where this style was born and where the strongest players are so it's natural for me to turn there when I need to realize my ideas. The fact that many of these musicians are my close friends makes the choice even more natural. The term "jazz" though doesn't mean anything to me anymore. It's way too broad to define and that's good. I think that many different genres of music are melting into one indefinable style with plenty of room for variation and no need to be anything except good and interesting.
Since Tyft was so improv/electronic I felt the need to do something more structured. As soon as I started to compose, it became pretty obvious that I needed exactly these four musicians. I had played with Trevor and Herb together with Jim, Andrew and others and there was such a great sound and feel between Trevor and Jim that I knew it would make the grooves and feels that I was writing come alive. Herb and Andrew also had such an amazing way of playing together that I felt a strong need to use that sound in my tunes.
My interest in odd meters and rhythmic complexities goes far back. I was starting to write this type of material when I lived in Brooklyn and Chris [Speed] and the others had just started to be fascinated by Balkan music. For some reason I was fascinated by having meters change all the time, bar by bar, which is very different from folk music where the odd meters are consistent throughout the piece. I wanted the music to "limp" a bit (whatever that means!).
I don't know if I have a sound or a style yet as a guitarist, it feels like a work in progress. I'm not much of a gear-head but I am very into using preparations and extended techniques: bows, alligator clips, mini-fans, screws, e-bow, drumsticks, a snare and various other things. I've also made a conscious effort to try to develop myself from the inside-out so to speak and rely on my own musical ideas and visions. There are however many musicians that have deeply affected my playing: Frisell, Scofield, Metheny, Abercrombie, Miles, Jarrett, Ornette, Zorn, Paul Motian. And I've been inspired by the people I've worked with: Jim, Andrew, Chris, Skuli Sverrisson, Eyvind Kang and Tim Berne to name a few. The avant-rock influence is quite recent. I've followed the blooming Chicago scene (including guitarists Jim O'Rourke and Kevin Drumm) with great interest. My Bloody Valentine, Blonde Redhead, Gastro Del Sol, Talk Talk and Radiohead are some of the rock bands I enjoy listening to. But my ears have also opened up to a lot of composed, improvised and electronic music: Mats Gustafsson, Gunter Muller, Bernard Gunter, Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, Luc Ferrari and on and on.
Apart from more his jazz-oriented music, Hilmar cofounded the genre-busting Icelandic arts collective Kitchen Motors and records as a leader for Iceland's Bad Taste label.