Talking to trumpeter Tomasz Stanko a couple of years back, he observed that musicians from everywhere in northern Europe quickly found common ground with one another “because we all come from countries where there is light without sun” and that mood infused their music.
There are mysterious parallels between light and sound. Both, as the physicists tell us, are waves. There are seven colours in the rainbow and seven notes in a scale. Red, blue and yellow are the primary colours; their position on the spectrum makes them the equivalent of the major chords on the scale. Those primaries blend to form secondary and tertiary shades; notes can be sounded together to form other chords. And we also use colour words – especially blue – frequently to talk about the feel of a jazz track. Physicists and mystics, as well as musicians and music and art therapists, have all speculated about what these resonances mean.
So what, then, happens when musicians marinated in that cool grey light collaborate with others, from a place where sun and heat pour out fiery colours for most of the year?
That’s what happens on Norwegian saxophonist Morten Halle’s most recent album, The Storm Inside (Curling Legs clp cd 154) recorded in Oslo in May last year and just released. Halle’s outfit, Halles Komet, has regularly featured South African pianist Andre Petersen, alongside bassist Edvard Askeland and drummer Torstein Lofthus. For this outing, they’re also joined by trumpeter Feya Faku who contributes not only sounds but two compositions, alongside two from the pianist, two from Halle, and one from the bass-man.
Halle himself notes on the liner: “Norway and South Africa have both produced their own distinct dialects of the jazz language, bringing in diverse elements from various types of traditional music [producing] a recognisable yet slightly different sound and feel.”
Stanko’s cool grey light is certainly there, in, for example, Askeland’s Eg Dreg Frå Glaset with its sombre, spacious feel. And South Africa’s red-hot puts in an appearance in both Petersen’s goema flavoured D’julle als hulle and Faku’s Elaina. That latter starts, in terms of melody, like the kind of indigenous hard-bop-jive The Drive were making in the 70s, but doesn’t stay there. Halle’s boisterously abstract solo takes the tune definitively into the future, and as the rest of the ensemble picks up that feel it becomes a very different animal – different, but certainly not alien.
And that’s what’s most interesting about this album. It doesn’t oscillate predictably between the poles of North and South as some Europe/South Africa collaborations do, depending on who penned the tune. What we hear on The Storm Inside are rather those secondary and tertiary colours: blends whose roots are not hidden, but whose flowers are very hard to label.
Because each track is so distinctive, it’s hard to pick standouts. But I had two more favourites. Halle’s title-track opener is all sullen, ominous, slow-moving thunderclouds illuminated by brilliant flashes of instrumental bravura from the leader and Petersen. And Petersen’s own, knowingly-titled Time Watchers refracts light on glittering water with motifs that oscillate between African time (in the proper sense: cyclical time) and Western minimalism – Terry Riley meets Nyanga pipers on the Cape Strand. This is another of those albums that merits quiet listening, but only to enjoy the seamless empathy and skill of the players – it’s not in any sense ‘difficult’ music. But it is likely to take you outside yourself, into a place that is neither North nor South but lets you bask in the light of both.
• The Storm Inside launches live at the Orbit on November 11/12. I’d buy my tickets now – it’s likely to be the easiest place to buy the album too.