Rating: 8.5 / Format: CD/LP / Label: Honest Jon’s
Moritz Von Oswald is accorded a rare kind of respect and reverence these days, the kind reserved not for great artists, but for artists of great dignity – people who have made remarkable work without ever compromising or falling for their own hype. Anonymity – or at least a low profile – was key to the very "identity" and efficacy of Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus’s Basic Channel project, and the subsequent Main Street and Maurizio series; it was music that was encouraged to speak for itself, and it did so, sonorously. These days Von Oswald and Ernestus are very much "out" – like Burial, I suppose, they’ve realised that self-occlusion can end up attracting more attention than it repels. That they’re now quietly resigned to their public status is apparent in the very name of Von Oswald’s latest project – the none-more-literal Moritz Von Oswald Trio.
Vertical Ascent is the first recorded outing for the Trio, who have performed a number of live shows around the world in the last year or so. Von Oswald is joined by Sasu Ripatti (a.k.a. Vladislav Delay) and Max Loderbauer, and their chosen home for the project is Mark Ainley’s London-based label Honest Jon’s. Analogue synth guru Loderbauer is best known for his work with Sun Electric and NSI. (with Tobias Freund), while Ripatti released his first few Vladislav Delay records on Von Oswald and Ernestus’s Chain Reaction imprint and here flexes his jazz drumming muscles, playing some very ethereal-sounding customized kit.
Of course, if you’re expecting to be immediately blown away by Vertical Ascent – like you were when you first heard ‘Infinition’ or ‘M5’ or ‘Best Friend’ – then you will be disappointed. This is a slow-burning album, at times almost subliminal in effect. There’s a gothic hue to opening track ‘Pattern 1’, the stormy synth parts supplied by Loderbauer and Von Oswald actually putting me in mind of Sunn O))), Grouper and Fennesz. ‘Pattern 2’ is, to my ears, faintly occult-sounding industrial ambient, reminiscent of Nurse With Wound or even Mount Vernon Arts Club. The Africa-tinged ‘Pattern 3’ triggered memories of Von Oswald’s recent(ish) remixes for Tony Allen and Wareika HIll Sound, while the juddering sub-bass skank of closing ‘Pattern 4’ isn’t a million miles away from the humid micro-dub of mid-period Rhythm & Sound.
This album is really a love letter to percussion, and to its resonance in a given space – it’s worth noting that the recording was done with mics rather than straight-to-desk – and as such it’s Ripatti, not Von Oswald, who feels like the star of the show. His subtly virtuoso sticksmanship provides Vertical Ascent‘s character and narrative thrust, and turns what might’ve just been a cerebral jam session into something altogether more questing and colourful.