Review of Living Rooms

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5 Jul 2010, 09:41

A recent review of Living Rooms:

"There are artists who unfold their musicianship on the world’s stages. There are also those that keep to home most of the time. I usually argue that musicians need to get out and scuffle themselves with others around the world. I still think so. But that is no panacea. For there are those who are so occupied with their "big" artistry that they lack an ear for the others - or even for themselves, really. Continuously, I discover examples of ”small” artistry. No large gestures, no solos aimed at seducing the audience - but in the end appear vague traces in the sand that prove to be unlike any others.

To suddenly look back and discover, that is a joy. Turning one’s head to the side and watch how the present looks different than you thought, that is as close to the listener's ecstasy one can get. That has been my relation to Christian Munthe for a great many years. An improvising guitarist loaded with experiences from Derek Bailey and British Impro, filled with a wayward energy. A man filled up with glowing acetylene gas. And in addition completely satisfied with the mere artistic challenge. No gestures, no waving your limbs around and no drastic conjectures. Only music that relates itself to other music and that is based in an approach of continuous questioning and reasoning.

This double album is typical. Recorded in private settings. No ambition to have a thousand people in the audience. This is about something else. Something artistically more important. There is a lot of Munthe’s guitar here, breakneck, stumbling, sometimes in a mixture of farce and Beckett. The choices are impossible. A clear direction would be ridiculous. Therefore, the decision of the moment is the more important.

The opening solo on CD2 has all of this. He exposes himself, drives gestures and the lack of gestures into a corner. Munthe is not skeptical in an obedient way. The aesthetic of questioning rather resembles the line suggested by a tripping wire. To fail is a personal statement, harboring enormous amounts of energy.

These two CDs present a series of musical encounters between Munthe and other improvisers. They are all like unreserved love affairs. The momentum is just as passionate as it is intrusive and critical. I love the two meetings with double bass player Nina De Heney. She is buffing and pushing at him with a flowing mixture of sharp dissonances and the rich sounds of the bass. In both cases, the result is a brilliant bubbling.

The meeting with Mariam Walentin is a home-cooking that surprises me. Normally, her voice is always so strong that she must subordinate herself to it. Here, wonders occur when Munthe has the guitar ruthlessly cutting away at what the famous singer perhaps would have desired. And kindly he allows her to land in familiar featherbeds. But the road up to that point is more than worth a listen. Munthe has a kind of indifference to the preferences of the others. And if he has the guitar rattling the blues for Walentin, in the next instant he is there sabotaging it. She responds with surprise and fall out of the tracks in a very successful way. Actually, I have rarely heard her as unpredictably exciting.

A couple of obvious highlights are the involvements of Christine Sehnaoui. Unobsequious. Now the sounds can be tasted to their utmost, and many other duos appear as a bit simplistic and conditionalised in comparison with Christine’s metallic ignitions of the air. It is staggering to experience how each accent and timbre of the two instruments touch each other to result in new parameters. As caresses or lashes of a whip. As breaths or strangled sounds. Their duo fumbles itself slowly forward to a final shrill dissonant sigh. And in the meantime, breath, metal and wood have been cut across each other. Masterful.

Christine Sehnaoui finishes the two discs with a solo. What do you say after that? Would it be possible for the breath to be more electric than this?"

Thomas Millroth, Sound of Music, 2010-07-02 (Translated from Swedish by Christian Munthe)
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