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Ultralyd: Condtions for a Piece of Music

Reviewed By: Andrew Carver
Label: Rune Grammofon
Format: CD

Ultralyd is the offspring of a Norwegian jazz improv trio and Kjetil Brandsdal, the bass player from heavy rockers Noxagt. The band has seen founding saxophonist Frode Gjerstad depart, and on its third album seems to be embarking on a more structured course intended to produce music more evocative of certain moods.

An immediately compelling album, ‘Conditions’ grabs the listener from the start.

I expect to hear the nifty beats kicked out by drummer Morten J. Olsen on the intro sampled on hip-hop albums in the years to come, and the strangled squeals of Kjetil Moester’s saxophone have a striking interplay with the metallic squeals of Anders Hana’s guitar feedback.

“Pentassonance II’ features clearly picked notes that resonant against distant metallic growls, a flurry of snare rolls from Olsen. The number segues into ‘Comphonie III’ on the strength of the prowling funk from Moester’s sax.

‘Low Waist’ kicks off with a riff not dissimilar to Union Carbide Production’s rock rant ‘Teenage Bankman’. As drums thump Hana unleashes a rapidly rappelling riff.

‘Debitage’ comes closest to escaping the bands of musical structure with abbreviated toots and klanks coming and going at whim, building to a squealing pitch that runs back to a scraping drone then fades into silence.

Like its namesake, the brief ‘Comphonie V’ pushes Moester’s sax to the front.

The title track sits at the album’s dividing line, with the stinging notes of Hana’s guitar and Moester’s sustained notes juxtaposed with the growling menace of Brandsdal’s bass. The piece grows sparser then launches into the frenetic ‘Musica Imperitiva’, which as its name suggests sounds like a tune in a hurry. By comparison, ‘Figurae’ changes the pace with a climbing three note sax figure that straddles the jaunty and mechanical over some tense drumming and a slow motion duel between Han and Moester over a slow stalking bassline.

Like its namesakes, ‘Comphonie IV’ gives pride of place to Moester’s sax, letting it range over the alien shuddering of Hana’s guitar at a leisurely stride.

The final tracks, ‘Pentassonance I’ and ‘Pentassonance III’ jump of from their own companion track, with ‘II’ injecting some extra growliness.

Despite its twists and turns the album keeps a consistent atmosphere - it album sounds a bit like it was recorded in an empty factory, with plenty of echoing, metallic sounds – and offers an interesting combination of free jazz, improv and ambient sounds.

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