Ars Norge

This Sunday evening Ars Nova Workshop holds the first in a series of concerts entitled Ars Norge. This series presents some of the most visionary jazz, improvisational and experimental artists working in Scandinavia today. Lead by Ivar Grydeland and Ingar Zach, Norwegian quartet Dans les Arbres returns to Philadelphia, creating sonic landscapes that evolve slowly, with an intention that evokes the cinema of the natural world. Grydeland and Zach have been working with each other since the early ‘00s. Their latest release, Canopée (2012) was released by ECM.

Kim Myhr opens the show Sunday night, playing solo 12-string guitar. Once again, a music of slow development, drawing out the harmonic richness of the 12-string run through electronic processing. As guitarists, both Myhr and Grydeland are equally adept in, and move fluidly between, learned finger style approaches and tempered extended techniques.

Critics have referred to both groups as having “Americana,” “folk” and other “simplistic” influences in their work. Traditional and “folk” music has been a part of the jazz avant-garde since free jazz and improvisation became a distinct musical genre. Whether it was Charles Mingus drawing on the music of his Baptist upbringing, Albert Ayler’s use of hymns and New Orleans second line music, or Max Roach’s We Insist: The Freedom Now Suite, which explored the blues and African conceptions of rhythm across multiple places and time, the greatest music has always looked to the musical wisdom of the ancestors, rooting itself firmly in those forebears in order to create innovative collective artistic statements.

Drawing on traditional music palettes and moving in innovative directions has been, and will continue to be, a theme of ANW’s season this year. Sam Amidon and Bill Frisell’s performance certainly embodies this notion. Amidon’s recasting of traditional Appalachian and New England songs (his own parents folk singers themselves) carries forth not only traditional music, but the spirit of the 1960s Folk Revival, adding 21st century harmony to the mix. In December, we see the return of Abraxas, Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz’s group, performing songs composed by John Zorn as part of his ever-growing Masada songbook, a collection of songs drawing on Jewish identity.

Dans les Arbres, Kim Mhyr and Ballrogg all express this connection to traditional music forms as well. While they conjure sounds of place, melodies of the north shimmer, only to retreat to the very patient collective processes of creation that is the hallmark of their artistry. Their music does away with the distinction between so-called high- and low-art forms.