Friday, August 26, 2011

The Intersection: Equilibrium

The Intersection is an ongoing feature on JazzWrap that looks at artists that have blended jazz, world and electronica in new and highly creative ways.

Equilibrium (group)
Sissel Vera Pettersen (voice, sax, electronics)
Mikkel Ploug (guitars)
Joachim Badenhorst (clarinet)
(photo: Carsten Villadsen)

Soft, delicate and almost floating above the clouds. That's where Equilibrium stand. When we talk about musicians and groups pushing the genre forward and seeking what can truly be done with sound and thought, this trio is what we mean.

For me, Equilibrium evoke all the elements of other Eastern European adventurists such as Arve Henriksen, Sidsel Endresen, Karin Korg, Treje Rypdal to the ethereal sounds of American, Ralph Towner. There is ability for Sissel Vera Petterson to meld her voice into a parallel of her electronic instruments. And then there is an inventiveness of both Badenhorst and Ploug to create inviting and enveloping soundscapes around that voice.

The trio began working together as a result of a number session meetings, first between Ploug and Vera, then Badenhorst joining in later. Each musician had already established themselves through their individual works. But as a trio they have developed something altogether different.

On their self-titled debut, Equilibrium (Songlines, 2009), the trio provide a blueprint of both ethereal architecture and jazz improvisation. On "November", the unison of the musicians and the rhythmic nature of the chords reminded me of the classic Philip Glass piece "Facades". "November" is a beautiful piece that is dense yet open to investigation by the listener. The clarinet work from Badenhorst and his performances deserves much wider recognition. On "Fri" he delivers an undulating exhibition that is breath-taking. Both Pettersen and Ploug join in on sax and guitar midway through giving the piece more colour, but it is Badenhorst who dominates this piece. Moving in a more gentle Scandinavian folk direction, "Soft Spoken" and "Chords" both shine with contextual beauty and pristine orchestration.

When Equilibrium returned earlier this year with Walking Voices (Songlines, 2011), you might have expected more of the same. Well, you kind of get that but its more than just lovely melodies and themes. There's more instrumentation. More adventure. More harmonic moments. Equilibrium make the case for being one of the most "different" groups you will hear all year.

Opening with "Addicted To Changes" the group continue to explore their unique melding of voice, guitar, clarinet and electronics. The best way to generally describe this would be a journey through "experimental folk." It has set the tone for Walking Voices. This is an even more diverse outing than their debut. Ranging from folk, jazz, ambient to gentle pop forms (i.e. Anja Garbarek). "Chagan" is one of my favourite tracks. It has a wonderful harmonic structure and Badenhorst's clarinet sounds expansive. Plough carries on in an acoustic rock fashion while Pettersen's electronics and vocal experiments add an extra sense of avant garde.

Walking Voices is rich and contains a little more depth than it's predecessor (which is what you would expect), but what you don't expect is to be completely blown away by how advanced a step the artists have taken in just a short period of time. The title track opens with an erie mixture of serene beauty and haunting ambience. Pettersen's voice is almost unrecognizable with electronic resonance. Badenhorst and Plough play a nice counterpoint towards the end of the piece. "Walking Voices" emits the enterprising nature of this trio. "Sires" ambient is a lovely way in which to depart this journey of soundscapes called Walking Voices. It's lustrous with movement up and down, like gentle waves from a pebble being thrown into the lake.

For many, Equilibrium will be hard to describe. Well, it is. The trio move in many enlightening directions. But at its heart, it is music of exploration. Music that has many origins and many roots. There are elements of serenity from many different avenues of influence on each of the members. Somehow. Some way. Equilibrium has made it sound so easy and so beautiful. This is an outfit that should work together for a long time. Highly Recommended and a must have for everyone.

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