Audio Mixer: Stian Westerhus.
Recording information: Oslo Klang (08/2014).
Didymoi Dreams, the initial recorded collaboration between veteran vocalist and composer Sidsel Endresen and guitarist Stian Westerhus, was cut live at a jazz festival in 2011 and released the following year. They've performed together since, but Bonita marks the duo's first studio outing. Though the atmosphere is more controlled, the music isn't. Engineer Johnny Kallenberg captured this in-the-moment performance at Studio Oslo Klang in a single session; Westerhus mixed it a month later. Perhaps the most immediately noticeable difference is in Westerhus' playing. Given the experience he's had with his rock group Pale Horses, his approach in meeting Endresen's signature, boundless sense of improvisational adventure is more aggressive. He uses more tones, more effects; he goes at the spaces rather than hanging inside them -- check the rowdy "Baton" for evidence. This is as it should be; he is not support for Endresen, but the other voice in this balanced presentation. Like her, he too is a "singer," though it's through his playing. Together they create resonance in whispers and echoes, surges, retreats, and the wonder of empty space. On "Boom Boom," a tender, painterly ballad, they seem to emerge from these silent corners with a shared tenderness of expression. The moody yet disturbingly gorgeous "Knuckle Tattoo" offers lyricism and dynamic tension rooted in emotional darkness and implied violence. The elliptically lyrical "Solemn Vista" is more fluid, generous in its sonances and textures. But these softer tracks are balanced by the rumble, amble, and zig-zag as found in the wildly abstract Ripper Silk," where growls, stutters, moans, and scrapes are asserted, answered, strung together, and pulled apart. Likewise, "Wild Mantilla" creates a fragmented yet purposeful cadence, dissembled time structure, and lyric architecture of its own. It's in the moment to be sure, but there is no excess, everything is focused on spark-into-flame concentration. Closer "Blue Punch" centers on a single, fractured guitar riff, distorted and mangled yet repetitive and hypnotic. Endresen grabs onto it, mimics it, then departs, forcing Westerhus to meet her slurry glossolalia with quaking attentiveness. As electrifying and bracing as Didymoi Dreams was, Bonita is even more so. The intimacy factor at work here is such that the pair are undistracted by other, outside influences. They surround, wind through, and soar above, below, and through each other egolessly and instinctually. Bonita is more assured, yet riskier and perhaps even braver than its predecessor. While that opinion is subjective, the album is a must for anyone interested in 21st century improvised music. ~ Thom Jurek