Switched On – Clarice Jensen: Esthesis (130701)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Esthesis is the third album from cellist and composer Clarice Jensen. Initially it was to be a concert experience, comprising a series of long drones that would cycle sequentially through the ‘circle of fifths’, moving from the pitches of C to F.

Unfortunately the pandemic put paid to any plans for a live experience, and Jensen regrouped to realise the concept in solitary form. As she writes, “I expanded my usual palette of layered and treated cellos without the effect of a more grandiose or large-scale feeling of timbre; I wished to employ additional media in an effort to further portray the idea of isolation and containment.”

Jensen goes on to describe the album. “’Sadness is a setting of Purcell’s Dido’s Lament. Liking begins with tentative hope and then blossoms, using an additive compositional process, whereas Disliking is subtractive. Anger uses text taken from Simone de Beauvoir’s letters to Nelson Algren. Fear attempts to simply portray breathing and absence. The organs used on Love suggest hallowed spaces, employing only a short progression that always returns to the same but becomes layered, out-of-sync and lost, but simplest at its end.

What’s the music like?

Deeply intimate – but not in an intrusive way.

Liking sets the tone, using the ‘home’ key of the cello if you like, with the C string being its lowest uniform note, and it builds in layers before settling on a drone that gives an immensely ambient sonority. Sadness takes on an ethereal chill, bright but with soft and mournful tones while Anger really is a striking piece, the emotion portrayed first through disorientating voices but then through an increasingly bothersome treble drone, held above low rumblings in the bass.

Disliking assembles a pile of ambient textures, and while not as confrontational as its title suggests it definitely carries an undercurrent. Joy, on the other hand, is rich and colourful, the sun streaming through an imaginary window as its oscillations proceed, before a softly undulating piano takes hold.

Fear – an all too real emotion during the pandemic – lives up to its billing with discomforting textures and figurations, and the return of that high pitch. Thankfully this is not the final emotion, as Love puts everything back in its rightful place, with consonant harmonies and cushioned textures.

Does it all work?

It does – and as a whole, rather than split into the engaging sections.

Is it recommended?

Yes – a compelling cycle of emotions to which we can all relate, beautifully played and recorded.

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Switched On – Wesseltoft | Schwarz: DUOII (Jazzland)

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Norwegian composer and keyboard player Bugge Wesseltoft and German multi-instrumentalist Henrik Schwarz have long enjoyed a productive musical chemistry. This has been realised both in the live environment, where their targeted improvising brings richly creative results, and on record too.

This is their second official record as a duo, though this time they open the doors to accommodate a few guest performers.

What’s the music like?

Really engaging – and written in a way that plays to the strengths not just of the main protagonists but also the guests.

The album is well structured, mixing instrumental and vocal tracks, and ushering us in with a soft marimba of Woodened Stone, leading to a dreamy and fuzzy soundscape. My First Life then has more fidgety movements from the electronics, with signs of a more expansive piano with rippling figures from Wesseltoft.

The guests are well chosen. The most immediate is trumpeter Sebastian Studnitzky, who appears on Basstorious. He offers an impudent riff off which Wesseltoft and Schwarz feed, with more percussion added to their arguments. Meanwhile the breathy vocal of Kid Be Kid works well on My First Life, nicely structured as a verse and response before a lovely vocalise at the end.

Duolism sparkles, with good interaction between piano and strings, while Eye For An Eye plays to the vocal strengths of Jenniffer Kae, Jemma Endersby and Catharina Schorling, complemented by Wesseltoft’s purposeful piano.

Future Strings is beautifully scored, ripe for the big screen, while Now I Am Better provides a strongly voiced closing track, with piano, vibes and synthesizers all germinating ideas above a bouncy four to the floor beat.

Does it all work?

It does. Both instrumentalists bring a fresh approach to their music making, which gives the impression to the listener that the ink is still drying on the page.

Is it recommended?

Yes. If you’re familiar with either artist and their work, either in a solo capacity or as a duo, then you need not hesitate. If the names are new to you, then jump right in, for this is an album where the balance between improvisation and composition is beautifully judged. Bugge Wesseltoft and Henrik Schwarz clearly had a lot of fun making the album, and as a listener you will have the same experience!

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