By Donovan Burtan
Headed by Portuguese trumpet player Susana Santos Silva, Life and Other Transient Storms present a dark sonic landscape on their self-titled album. Brooding melodies unite the entire group with brief side conversations shedding light on specific sections of the ensemble. The album is completely driven by improvisation with two huge periods of time leaving plenty of room to explore. Although the ensemble is of a traditional quintet set-up with Lotte Anker on saxophones, Sten Sandell on piano, Torbjörn Zetterberg on bass and Jon Fält on drums, their relentless energy and chemistry combine for a memorable free jazz release with surprising textures and developments entering the mix throughout.
Beginning with tense playing from each band member, album opener “Life” collages many different sonic capabilities of the band ranging from explosive chaos to more barren dives into textural ambiance. One-on-one improvisation within the ensemble allows for quiet breaths of intimacy to break up the huge walls of sound. Drummer Jon Fält has a particular knack for complementing the improvisations of the more melody driven instruments in the space, first bouncing ideas off of Torbjörn Zetterberg’s bass noodling before finding a connection with Sten Sandell’s piano work. The second piece begins with Silva alone, her rhythm section eventually joining her before the entrance of Anker’s sax. Silva’s playing is generally very clean with modest extended techniques complementing her angular melodies. As the piece develops, the volume grows, particularly when Lotte Anker finally enters on sax. Perhaps a product of her selected instrumentation, Anker becomes the main energy force on the album, her massive capacity for sound pulling life out of the players that surround her. Being the shorter of the two pieces, “Other Transient Storms” operates essentially as one big build up. Even amongst certain digressions from the overall explosive soundscape, the focus of the piece pushes forward, contrasting the more fluctuating mood of the first piece.
The album is wholly cloaked in a dark sound aesthetic. Each melody thrives on minor tonality with a certain anxious pressure coming from the approach of each ensemble member. For saxophone player Lotte Anker, blaring repetition of vibrato-ridden low notes adds to the overall tense mood. On piano, Sten Sandell places his phrases on the edge of a cliff with a certain burning urgency jabbing at each played key. Perhaps all of the un-ease accomplished by the players is what warrants the length of each piece as the listener is kept on the edge of their seat, anxiously awaiting resolution.
As far as experimental extended techniques go, this album is more subtle than many of the free jazz releases in today’s market, which presents a bit of give and take as the record is made more impressive by its ability to maintain intrigue off of traditional musical techniques alone, but it also somewhat fails to offer anything groundbreaking sonically. It would certainly be fair to say that a record sounding like this could have feasibly been created a couple years ago on clean feed records and acoustic free jazz of this nature will ensue for years to come. Perhaps the band could have benefited from some unique production tactics or electronic additions to their sound. On the other hand, sometimes the addition of an electronic element or an extremely vast collection of experimental sounds cheapens the effect of the music as a whole. At the end of the day it is up to the musicians themselves to take risks and push themselves in new directions, it just cannot go without saying that staying comfortable with the way things are done today can lead to musical stagnation tomorrow.
Life and Other Transient Storms is a solid free jazz release. The ensemble comes together with a great deal of chemistry and their impressive feats of musical prowess entertain and shock throughout. As far as pushing boundaries go, the group does not seem to be pushing themselves into a completely unknown territory, however their talents make up for the lack of shocking modernity.
Very solid work all around with room for sonic improvement: 8/10