Trumpeter Arve Henriksen’s ECM debut has been met with much fanfare this year. The Norwegian has played with label mainstays Jon Balke, Anders Jormin, and the late Edward Vesala, along with Supersilent, Food and Nine Horses. It’s not just because of that latter association, but something about this album really reminds me of David Sylvian’s breakthrough 1980s work, roughly beginning with Words with the Shaman. Sure, Sylvian contributes some spoken word passages to this album, but more specifically, something about the world trumpeter Henriksen imagines recalls that heady, opiate sound indebted to both Can and Robert Fripp.
The overall sound of Cartography suggests a gauzy electronically processed inner monologue rather than any kind of improvisational setting. Henriksen supplements the spoken ruminations (some drawn from William Brooks texts, others from uncredited sources) with a bevy of electronics. Jan Bang’s samplers are the most audible, but there are many others: Steve Jansen (Sylvian’s longtime collaborator) and Erik Honore on samples and keyboards, Arnaud Mercier on treatments, some beats and programming from percussionist Audun Klieve (an ECM mainstay), and some strings and programming from Heldge Sunde. There’s also some guitar (Eivind Aarset), bass (Lars Danielsson), and other vocals (Verene Andronikoff, Anna Maria Fridman, and Trio Medieval). The composer’s pinched, muted high end gives it an almost flute-like quality, something soft and crying like one hears in certain strains of Indian classical music, specifically (to my ears) recalling Hariprasad Chaurasia on tracks like “Loved One” and “Migration.”
This is significant, because the most compelling parts of this record are individual instrumental passages. On each listen, I tend to focus on the passages of creative trumpet, and sigh indifferently in response to the pulses that bubble up from time to time. In the middle of the album are seven tightly constructed fragments, deep and aquatic atmospheres, with bird-clucks and gull cries from trumpet, some mutated vocals that on the one hand give the pieces a sense of real longing, but on the other, sound like movie music fodder. With occasional flickers of other instruments in the thick of this shimmering, floating-world stuff, it’s Henriksen’s show.
I guess that’s as it should be. But ultimately, this is a pleasantly diverting record – filled with polished production and suggestive ambience – without being too much more.