Listening to this expansive new work from collaborators John Tilbury, Keith Rowe and Kjell Bjørgeengen without the benefit of context, you’re likely to be struck by its eloquence and depth. The 48-plus-minute work is clearly the product of experienced, accomplished hands.
When you learn, however, that this improvisation was recorded just weeks after the passing of Bjørgeengen’s wife Sissel, and that it is dedicated to her memory, the work takes on even greater resonance.
It’s not so much sad as it is reflective. Beautifully so.
Tilbury performs on piano; Rowe on guitars and electronics; Bjørgeengen contributes live video. The trio’s sparse performance concentrates the listener’s attention on even the most minor, quiet details. There’s a tension throughout, but it’s presented as something healthy, to be experienced and accepted.
Rowe wrote this in the album’s notes: “I ask myself, why … such a distressing event as the death of a dear precious friend Sissel finds its expression in muteness, why muteness? I think it relates to [a Nicolas] Poussin painting Landscape with a Calm.
“In this painting we see, in the exact same spot as the widow, a curly haired shepherd gazing out over a lake. But there is something strange here, the sky is full of turbulent stormy clouds, but the reflection on the lake is completely calm. Maybe it’s here where the disruptive turbulent shocking distressing news of the death of a dear friend who we loved locates its muteness.”
Tilbury and Rowe were together as part of AMM, the much-admired improv troupe formed in London, England in 1965. The two delivered their final performance as AMM – with founding member Eddie Prévost – in 2015.
Bjørgeengen first worked with his partners that same year, as producer of a four-disc box set on the SOFA label called enough still not to know.
As sad as its backstory is, this new work is a triumph.