A disciple of Jon Hassell and a founding member of experimental and improvisational band Supersilent, Norwegian trumpet player Arve Henriksen is a captivating contemporary musician who has released nine solo albums to date. Deriving his unique style from the Shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute, he has shared recording sessions and the stage with musicians as diverse as double bass player Lars Danielsson, pianists Christian Wallumrød and Tigran Hamasyan, singer songwriter David Sylvian and more recently Trio Mediaeval or percussionist and “ice musician” Terje Isungset among others. With Towards Language, his eighth recording for Oslo-based label Rune Grammofon and released on 2 June 2017 last, the musician reunites with long-term collaborators Jan Bang, Eivind Aarset and Erik Honoré.
Hailing from Norway, electronic musician and sound engineer Erik Honoré, electric guitar player Eivind Aarset and electronic musician and producer Jan Bang have already worked together on Henriksen’s Cartography (2008) and Places of Worship (2013). They also all share the same interest in improvisational creativity and sound sculpture.
Illustrating their collective approach to sound, Henriksen, Aarset and Bang for instance recently collaborated on The Height of the Reeds project (1 – 30 April 2017), a sound installation for the iconic single-span 2.2km long Humber Bridge as part of Hull UK City of Culture 2017. By collecting a headset on arrival, visitors can “activate a unique sonic experience that unfolds as they walk the length of the bridge”. Devised in collaboration with the chorus and orchestra of Opera North, the “sound walk” incorporates spoken word, an orchestral score and the improvised trumpet of Henriksen reacting to the field recordings captured on site (the sound of the cars passing, of the cables resonating, of the wind among the reeds on the riverbanks etc.)
Towards Language is constructed along similar lines. A minimalist slow motion guitar loop (“Groundswell”), synth layers (“Patient Zero”) and accidental rhythmic sounds – a thumb piano on “Towards Language”, a muted metallic bell on “Hibernal”- provide the canvas for Henriksen to elaborate upon. The compositions range from the poignant lyricism of Chiaroscuro or Places of Worship to the unsettling avant-garde soundscapes of his noise improvisations with Supersilent or of his “cosmic” ambient journeys (Strjon/Chron Cosmic Creation).
Wavering beautifully and keening softly at times, the trumpet becomes an extension of the musician’s voice. As he has done many times in the past, Henriksen often bypasses the instrument altogether. On the title track for instance, eerie wordless vocals evoke both the Sami music tradition and the work of fellow Norwegian vocalist and composer Maja Ratjke with whom he shared a joint release earlier this year.
Based on a traditional Kven theme, the last track on the album (“Paridae”) is a song featuring guest vocalist Anna Maria Friman from Trio Mediaeval with whom the trumpet player released the beautiful Rímur in March 2017. The album features a repertoire of old hymns and folk songs collected from sources in Iceland, Norway and Sweden. At the same time, his entirely acoustic 2014 release The Nature of Connections saw Henriksen partner with a string quartet to perform a repertoire of chamber music compositions mostly based on folk themes. Earlier in his career, Strjon (2007) suggested a musical survey of his native West-coast of Norway hometown.
In other words, more than the jazz, ambient, electronics or non-rehearsed and improvised music he is associated with, expressing the Norwegian soul is perhaps the other major common thread running through Arve Henriksen’s work.