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September 2003

Christian Wallumrød
Sofienberg Variations
ECM Records

During his development as a pianist and composer, Christian Wallumrod says, he moved explicitly away from "the need to play 'clever' lines over predictable chord sequences. I'm still intensely interested in harmonic structure and development but not in straightahead jazz contexts where you know exactly what to expect." On his new album, Sofienberg Variations, Wallumrod and his fellows-trumpeter Arve Henriksen, violinist and fiddler Nils Okland and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen-explore the style he has created in contrast to the straightahead: melodic fragments built up between deliberate pauses, gradual harmonic evolutions, inward, quiet playing from all the musicians and uniformly slow tempi.

It's certainly an approach that's different from straightahead jazz, but, unfortunately, over the course of an hour it proves to be dour, momentum-free and just as predictable as the music Wallumr_d has rejected. On tracks like "Memor," "Edith," "Psalm" and "Losing Temple," melodic fragments either don't go anywhere or go somewhere with such deliberateness that they might as well save themselves the trip. Diatonic melody as such has almost no place in Sofienberg, with the result that the listener is expected to anxiously sit through the relentlessly recurring silences to get to essentially random-sounding notes. The quietness and slowness of the music just become tedious when there is little loudness and no quickness to make a contrast.

The only successes Wallumrod has with his method are the "Sarabande Nouvelle" tracks and "Liturgia," where attractive melodies lend a natural structure to the musical line and improvisation that is otherwise lacking here. Otherwise there's too much nothing and too little change here to recommend these Variations.

Originally published in September 2003
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