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April 2009

Arve Henriksen
Cartography
ECM Records

Cut-and-pasted collagelike bits of melody and coolly winded trumpets that pretend to be shakuhachi flutes. These things are part and parcel of all that Arve Henriksen surveys. It should be no surprise then to hear Norwegian composer and trumpeter Henriksen working with singer David Sylvian and percussionist/sampler Steve Jansen as he does within the craggy walls of Cartography.

Sylvian in particular has long been drawn to classically trained trumpeters, guys like Kenny Wheeler and Mark Isham who understand atmospheric synthetic arrangements with clunky nuances that are tastefully minimalist, mordantly askew and stoically cinematic. Henriksen is a man famous for his Japanese-inspired trumpet playing and avant-garde iciness when it comes to fashioning elegantly dreary melodies. These elements make him a perfect foil for Sylvian’s bassoon-like chatter and stilted emotional phrasings. There’s a forlorn mystical quality to all that the trumpeter achieves, whether it’s the big, gray, winded chill of “Before and Afterlife” or the scuffed textures throughout “Poverty and Its Opposite.” The unutterable grief found within Sylvian’s lyrics on “Thermal” can only be matched by the gracefulness of Henriksen’s melody. Sylvian’s participation is brief, sadly.

But Henriksen finds other distractions throughout: still-life whistles and drones, tight, snarling fragments of barely-there rhythms. Through these moments (e.g. “Ouija”) his trumpet’s spittle trickles and sprays a brand of beautiful Morse Code. By the time that same wet breathiness appears through the squiggling synth tricks of “Assembly,” it has squeaked its way into a full puckering kiss. No matter how chilly his song, Henriksen has found something dear and romantic within.

Originally published in April 2009
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