Outstairs is not music for the impatient. Like so many ECM releases, it values the silence between the notes as much as the music itself, but here that silence is often exaggerated to the point that you might find yourself checking your stereo to ensure that it hasn’t shut off. The first such instance occurs only seconds into the opening track, “Stille Rock”: Wallumrød plays three chords on piano, follows them with an equal duration of dead air, plays two more chords, there’s more dead air, and only after three such funereal minutes does drummer and chief collaborator Per Oddvar Johansen finally join him. The pace never does accelerate, and the silence returns every so often, even as the other musicians slowly make their presence known. The music feels like a visitation, a succession of sounds that peek in and then skitter away.
Wallumrød, who is from Norway and has recorded for ECM for the better part of two decades, is known for this sort of blurring. His music is neither strictly jazz nor classical but it doesn’t quite conform to accepted definitions of Third Stream either. It’s minimal to the extreme yet it never feels less than full. On tracks like “Bunadsbangla” and “Ornament” it rings exotic and on “Beatknit” and “Third Try,” respectively, it flits from toy music to horror-movie soundtrack. Hardanger fiddle, harmonium, viola and cello bind it to European tradition while the keyboards, saxophone, trumpet and percussion sounds extend it outward, to some other place unknown. Outstairs is at once orchestrally grand and barely even there.