Rating: 6.5 / Format: CD / Label: Rune Grammofon
I’m not a massive expert on Rune Grammofon, but you can’t knock a label that puts out music by people called Morten Qvenild and Hild Sofie Tafjord who record under names like In The Country and SPUNK, can you? You’d have to be mad not to be into that – and you’d have to be equally mad not to at least like the latest album by In The Country, Whiteout.
Qvenild is better known to normal people as The Magical Orchestra, as in Susanna Wallumrod’s backing band. Whiteout is his third album under this guise, and comes after he was awarded the Kongsberg Jazzfestival’s Musicians Award. If you win the award, it’s apparently tradition to write music as a thank you to it, which is how Whiteout was formed. It’s epic in size (seven tracks in give or take seventy minutes, the last of which is nineteen minutes long), but spends its first three tracks playful and relaxed: bar the big crescendo in the middle of ‘Doves Dance’, it sounds, well, a bit like how doves might dance. At least how they might if they were in an Andrew Lloyd Webber play. ‘From the Shore’ and ‘Kungen’ are both slowly developing piano pieces, the latter a little bit creepy in its jangle and atmosphere.
‘Ursa Major’ is where the album starts to move into second gear; fuller and more percussive than what’s come before, the keys don’t dominate as much, and the track expands by adding horns and woozy digital effects while the drums get louder and louder. When it can’t take any more, the whole thing topples over and we’re left with an epilogue of mournful piano and deep-mixed drum rolls. ‘Dead Water’s first half’s like a more key-led version of some of John Zorn’s ambient moments (IAO, records like that), and its second is back to the familiar territory of wandering piano. It’s good, Whiteout, and it’s touching when Qvenlid takes up vocal duty on triumphant closing track ‘Mother’, but it stops surprising you after four tracks, and when that’s not even the album half way done, that’s not a great sign. A very likeable record, but inessential compared to similar records that have come out on Rune, and especially compared to the best of Qvenild’s work with Susanna.