When Norwegian saxophonist Bendik Giske surfaced on the scene three years ago, he instantly fit in with Oslo’s Smalltown Supersound label. The label’s adventurous, polyglot roster, home to mavericks such as Supersilent and Deathprod, has a long history blurring the parameters of “ambient” and “jazz.” Giske’s 2019 debut album, Surrender, summoned an interiorized soundworld in which the sax, rather than a conveyor of melody, becomes a generator of fractalized sonic microbes that coalesce into mesmerizing shapes. That release established him as one of the label’s most fascinating artists.
Giske’s approach has more in common with the otherworldly fever-dreamscapes of the late trumpeter Jon Hassell and his young sax acolyte Sam Gendel than with any jazz traditionalists. Assisted by André Bratten’s electronic treatments, what issues out of Giske’s horn are miniaturist Joan Miró paintings made out of Nordic breath, aswirl with dazzling ripples and angular abstractions. Cracks delves deeper still into this bizarre approach, which is highly disciplined while maintaining a baseline calmness.
The drama in Giske’s tracks is informed by his keen ear for when to recede and when to surge. It’s the familiar quiet-loud-quiet ethos, but micromanaged on a second-by-second basis. Similarities exist with the music of circular-breathing master saxophonist Colin Stetson, as loads of reply guys under Giske’s YouTube clips have observed, but the Norwegian musician’s work lacks the bravado and the “elephant with a spear lodged in its hindquarters” anguish of his American predecessor. Where you vividly sense the intense physical effort that Stetson brings to his recordings, Giske’s sounds, by contrast, seem more disembodied.
Ironically, bodily movement played a foundational role for Giske: As a youngster, he practiced dance while dividing his time between Bali and Oslo, and when he moved to Berlin as an adult, he expanded his horizons in the discipline by immersing himself in that city’s vital club milieu, though what he’s created on Cracks cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called dance music—unless your limbs are made out of liquid. Opening cut “Flutter” rides in on insular whorls and intimate taps of the sax’s leather pads, weaving a delicate tapestry of almost flute-like trills fibrillating in an expanse of celestial ambience. The title track conjures profound spectral strangeness, something akin to distant demons in a wind tunnel, bringing neck hairs to attention and then frosting them. It is doubtful that saxophone inventor Adolphe Sax would recognize anything in this piece as deriving from his brainchild. “Cracks” could be a contender for placement on a long-awaited second volume of Kevin Martin’s Ambient 4: Isolationism comp.
It’s on “Cruising” where Giske comes closest to the earthy rhythms and mellow oscillations of Hassell’s arcane ecosphere. As the song progresses, Giske’s sax gradually becomes more unruly and echoplexed, haloed in ghost notes that tint the air like exhalations in sub-zero temperatures. It’s the album’s tour de force, an expansive journey to a zone where spiritual jazz meets polar ambience. Throughout Cracks, Giske appears to be striving for an alien, private vocabulary with an instrument saddled with 175 years of tradition and tropes. Against great odds, he succeeds.
Buy: Rough Trade
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