CD REVIEW: Linus + Økland / Van Heertum – Felt Like Old Folk



Linus + Økland / Van Heertum – Felt Like Old Folk
(Smeraldina-Rima. CD review by Henning Bolte)

Linus is the Flemish duo of guitarist Ruben Machtelinckx and reedist Thomas Jillings, Felt Like Old Folk is their third album. On their last album the duo teamed up with Norwegian musician Øvind Skarbø and Belgian guitarist Fredrik Leroux. This time it is Belgian tuba player Niels van Heertum and well-known Norwegian fiddler Nils Økland. Machtelinckx plays acoustic baritone guitar and banjo here, van Heertum the euphonium (tenor tuba) and Økland hardanger fiddle, the bowed Norwegian folk instrument with resonating strings (and its varied tunings).

How does this combination of instrument make sense, work and sound? Three of the instruments, the fiddle, the tuba and reeds can produce long expanding tones with rich multiphonics. As a plugged instrument the baritone guitar is fully wrapped in the sound of the other instruments and corresponding well with the register of the tenor tuba. It is a conscious choice evidently to exploit the rich and expansive tonal field - ‘felt’ in Norwegian and ‘veld’ in Flemish (written differently but pronounced almost identically) - their respective instruments open up. It is the tonal field melodies emerge from, circulate and fade into. The foursome works on this matter from different angles, in various ways. To give an indication the four pieces could be re-named as Out Of The Dust, Buried, Spiraling and Droning Out.

Take as a reference point nature sounds, murmuring, the swish of the air, the whispers of the wind or take the sound of the spheres. In the whizzing of both you can discern different melodic traits that might shift, turn into a clear shape, and then dissolve and fade into the whizzing again. In a certain way the musicians here do something analogous, making use of the special possibilities of their instruments. The resonant strings of the hardanger fiddle makes its sound broader and shimmering and at the same full of spectacular transitions, ambiguity and noticeable merging.

In the beginning phase of the long first piece, (17:30 minutes) melodic contours emerge slowly and subsequently threaten to fall apart. Contour is resurrected from diverging and converging sound particles within a free improvisation in a second phase. That appears a solid enough basis for a clear and stable folk melody to emerge. In the concluding phase the melodic element becomes something of a slowly executed rock-riff. The piece also has a remarkable strong vocal-like quality.

The second piece is a bit the reverse. The melodic contour is buried under a lot of noisy and distorting elements. Machtelinckx plays banjo here and Jilling’s playing is of the Trygve Seim bended type of articulation. Contrary to Seim, Jilling’s playing is not purifying but much more raw. The third piece is hymn-like and has something of a sunrise or sunset. It slowly gets shape and is spiraling then. Gil Evans was a master if this kind of thrilling and delightful stasis. The last piece is a longer descending piece (9:57). It starts with a strummed dark chord on the baritone guitar repeated over and again for quite a while. It has a drone-like effect but as in the pieces before the main line is recursively renewing itself in the long run again and again by slight harmonic shifting. It is thus growing into an seemingly endless soulful whole.

The music and its approach clearly differ from standard minimal music as well as standard ambient music. It also differs from the secondhand minimalism which is en vogue at the moment among young groups in jazz. There are more musicians and guitarists working in that same vein as Machtelinckx at the moment. Machtelinckx has already made a strong mark with Linus as well as his quartet with fellow guitarist Hilmar Jensson, reedist Joachim Badenhorst and bassist Nathan Wouters. With Felt Like Old Folk he convincingly deepens and consolidates his approach.

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