Recording of the Week,
Rabbia/Petrella/Aarset - Lost River
I have been catching up on some recent releases that I didn’t manage to properly immerse myself in when they came out, and Lost River from the trio of drummer Michele Rabbia, guitarist Eivind Aarset and trombonist Gianluca Petrella is one that has particularly impressed me. Walking a line between improv and ambient music, anyone who responds to John Hassel, later Supersilent, and even the more atmospheric moments of Miles’s electric era should find this rewarding. Apparently ECM founder Manfred Eicher himself brought the three musicians together for this project, in which case hats off to him!
Water, in all of its manifestations, is the theme, with track titles like What Floats Beneath, Styx and Nimbus (the rain cloud formation). Accordingly, the music paints soundscapes of rivers, oceans and vast o’er hanging canopies of the wet stuff, aided by typically detailed yet widescreen ECM production. In my mind’s eye Aarset and Petrella paint the dark landscape, the bruised clouds or the ocean, onto which Rabbia’s percussion often represents the water. Discreet electronics also play an important role, adding pointillistic details to the picture or occasionally representing mechanical devices, as on the short piece Flotsam.
Rabbia’s track Fluvius starts out like something from Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 2 before a guitar arpeggio starts rocking, reminding me of the motif that underpins Rachmaninov’s tone poem Isle of the Dead. Petrella’s trombone often feels like the lonely human presence in these pieces, with wonderfully controlled, muted lines. Aarset’s guitar is the hardest instrument to pin down, often melding with the trombone, taking the road less travelled, only occasionally rewarding us with a few full plucked notes that sound gorgeous in isolation.
Surprisingly the glacial pace of the music never drags. Clocking in at ten tracks in forty-five minutes there is plenty of variety, and in the same way that our eyes gradually adjust to the night sky, the restricted tonal palette means that subtle variations feel all the more dramatic, as on Night Sea Journey. Reminiscent of The Necks' more ambient moments, Rabbia almost works up to a pulse, with clever cymbal patterns that dissolve and fragment just as we are about to grasp them.
Lost River follows another fine water-themed album this year, Voyages by Daniel Herskedal on Edition Records, which I reviewed back in March. Where that album was far sunnier, capturing the sense of elation of sea journeys, this is its sombre dark cousin, an album that rewards deep listening.