Guitarist John Moulder’s new album belongs on ECM. It has the distant, icy sound of a Jan Garbarek record, and it builds its layers like one of Terje Rypdal’s. Bifröst is a vast, expansive piece of work—a landscape of wide-open spaces and big skies with a decidedly Scandinavian feel (even if Moulder is based in Chicago).
The title track, which opens the disc, starts off innocently enough, with stark lines drawn by Bendik Hofseth’s tenor saxophone. Eight minutes later, relaxation has somehow turned to cacophony, with all the instruments—Hofseth’s sax, Moulder’s guitar, Arild Andersen’s upright bass, Brian Peters’ electric bass and Paul Wertico’s drum kit—swirling around one another, cyclone-like. It’s not always like this, though. Moods vary. “Watch Your Step” and the three-movement “Cold Sea Triptych” edge toward a style that’s based more in folk—and in New Age and even in ambient music—than in blues or improvisation.
Moulder plays both acoustic and electric, and he approaches each differently. His electric is aggressive and raw; his acoustic is tender and introspective. You can almost hear him thinking during the quieter, sparer moments of “Magical Space,” as he explores the undercurrents of harmony. Just as Moulder finishes his solo, Hofseth picks up the thread and plays off it—unleashing, only briefly, a torrent of descending notes in the midst of a peaceful monologue. The 15-minute closer, “Time Being,” illustrates Moulder’s dual personality best. In one moment he duets beautifully with Andersen, the faintest of brush-swept cymbals heard in the distance; in the next, he thrashes.