|Bohemian Sketches is a collection of five original paintings in sound reverberating with the mind and emotions of Norwegian symbolist/expressionist painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944). It is the third recording from Norwegian jazz quartet Sphinx. Four of the pieces are written by reedman Anders Lønne Grønseth and one is written by pianist David Skinner. Each of the five pieces bears the name of one of the Munch paintings on display at the Munch museum in Oslo, the home city of Sphinx. Bohemian Sketches is a satisfying listening experience unto itself; to refer back to the Munch paintings that engendered it adds an extra dimension of interest. Like the paintings, the music shifts continually between light and darkness and Bohemian Sketches ends with a powerful rising sun.
The CD begins logically with "Selvportrett" (Self Portrait), a dense, rich piece of sombre beauty. Characterized by the coexistence of light and dark yet never far from a deep well of melancholy, the music reflects the subject of the portrait. Solitary bass pulls us in and is soon joined by glittering dark piano. The tenor sax enters with a minor melody and we find ourselves in a complex work of layered melodies with a moment of peace, a touch of the majestic, much turbulence, notes wailed and notes jaunty until the bass, alone once more, brings us back out to leave us hanging on a shortened note.
"Livets Dans" (The Dance of Life) contrasts deep bass and soprano sax sounds. There is an element of folkloric dance music here, some strong melodic motifs which I hear as akin to klezmer, an irresistible bass groove, drums that drive and decorate and a very individual and fitting piano. It lives up to its description in the CDs accompanying notes as a musical expression of the warmth and light of romance and the darkness of lust, greed and jealousy.
Munchs Madonna is said to portray all possible aspects of femininity. She is innocent, sinful, nurturing, dangerous and maternal. Sphinxs "Madonna" is predominantly dark to me, though not without sweetness in the multi-faceted piano passages of David Skinner. The bass, especially when bowed, is often ominous, the warm-toned bass clarinet is often sad and expressively wandering. The piece is a great illustration of the classical beauty of Skinners piano, the gorgeous melodic subleties of Ellingsens bass, the versatility of Gronseth and the wonderful tension building capability of Thorsruds drums.
"Melankoli" is as stated. Although it ends on an upward series of piano notes there is no innocent brightness here. "Melankoli" opens with solo bowed bass, a breath of sax, a scattering of keys, sax and piano countering, a switching between sax and solo bowed bass, between melancholy and despair and moments of anxiety. A dark cymbal, notes falling from the soprano sax, bending and falling into despair.
"Solen" (The Sun) closes off the exhibit. One can imagine that it begins in pre-dawn darkness with the first rays of the sun peeking through in the form of sparse and spartan piano notes that gradually merge and flow into a piano solo. Subtle effects are added by the drums. Bowed bass and sax play in synch, a whine of cymbal shifts the tense build to sunrise to a new level. There is melody, mystery, mournfully-bowed bass, deep drums, rippling piano with flashes of brightness, the anticipation and anxiety of an impending breakthrough fear as well as awe before the power of the sun. The piece ends with the sun bursting through and leaves us with slowly dissipating dissonance rumbling from the dark end of the piano.
I highly recommend this CD. Original, expressive jazz, this project shapes sound to idea and emotion with great skill. It is an original creation of human spirit pulling you in to explore.
reviewed by Joyce Corbett December 2007