CD Review: Mats Eilertsen -‏ Sails Set

Mats Eilertsen -‏ Sails Set
(Hubro HUBROCD2524. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

His fourth release for Norwegian label Hubro sees bassist Mats Eilertsen returning to trio format, with Harmen Fraanje (piano) and Thomas Strønen (drums). Sails Set presents absorbing, wholly improvised music of understatement, intrigue and contemplation – mostly in two- or three-minute episodes – sparking the imagination with its varied sound palette and picture-painting.

The entire 37-minute sequence suggests a Mussorgsky-like promenade through a hushed gallery, pausing to experience the fine detail of a series of abstract miniatures, as well as two larger works along the way. And the attention to that detail, as well as to space, is remarkable – the impression given that every extemporised sound is so carefully considered and placed. In fact, Eilertsen describes their goal as “to create improvised tunes, sounds and situations that could equally well have been composed and produced.” Not that all here is tranquillity, for there is a prevalence of mystery and darkness, with sung utterances and close breathing adding to the atmosphere. Mats Eilertsen (known for his work with, amongst others, pianists Tord Gustavsen, Wolfert Brederode and Alexi Tuomarila) leads the trio, yet the emphases constantly shift as each musician seeks different timbres and combinations. There’s clearly an understanding and a trust here which creates a palpable openness of creativity – perhaps less familiar in a studio album – and the closely-recorded material invites an edge-of-seat attentiveness.

Title track Sails Set is an airy scene-setter, repeated piano and arco bass visualising an ocean-going journey, complete with quietly percussive rigging movement, whilst equally concise solo piano piece Stellar is beautifully weightless. The wonderfully illustrative Stray Dog has Eilertsen’s and Strønen’s bass and percussion recognisably representing the mischievous meanderings of an off-leash canine vagrant; and Orbiting makes as much of space as it does of sound.

Central to the album is Monument, an eight-minute landscape which builds in stature as it proceeds. With ever-increasing heaviness and tension – Eilertsen’s resonant, repeated bass motifs and Strønen’s expansive rhythm at the core – it’s redolent of the extended, final improvisations of e.s.t. Harmen Fraanje’s restrained opening piano octaves (and subtle vocalisation) widen out to fill the keyboard’s range, and the whole episode becomes more and more urgent and mesmeric. Currents fascinates with Strønen’s sharp, bright, metallic clangs, Eilertsen’s close-to-bridge bowed repetition and Fraanje’s half-whispered/half-sung enhancements to his simple, sustained piano. The softer Stone and Sand finds sonorous bass twisting and twining above brushes and cymbals, whilst the bright experimentation and repeated riff of the piano encourages the trio to again build, before ebbing away quietly.

A slowly revolving Music Box is cleverly resembled by the melancholy charm of Fraanje’s high piano – but there is always a tinge of dissonance and regret, especially when Strønen’s vividly-suggested ‘mechanism’ falters and eventually stops. And finally, Matt Eilertsen’s brief Alone demonstrates his considerable proficiency in melodic and chordal soloing – a quietly eloquent conclusion to an album of adventure and exploration.

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