"Knut Reiersrud plays the blues." This simple statement is a truism that rolls out of critical pens all too easily, and tends to mask the fact that Knut Reiersrud is a great deal more than your common-or-garden variety blues guitarist. His playing distinguishes itself not only by his deep understanding and command of the blues in all its facets, but in the range of emotion he manages to express within it. He incorporates elements from different traditions, perhaps most notably those from Norwegian folk and church music, yet maintains a balance quite unique among his peers in that he doesn't merely blend the mechanics of the music, but instead enmeshes the spiritual elements these diverse musics have in common. In this sense, rather than a straight player, he is a bold interpreter, creating something new, uniquely his own.
On this, his first Jazzland Recordings release, his interpretive and expressive skills are brought to the fore. From the opening track, "Mohan Vina", it is clear that this is something special. Each note that comes from Reiersrud's guitar is there for a good reason: no note is wasted or unnecessary - which isn't to say that the music is spare or typically "nordic" as many critics these days like to say. This is warm-blooded, passionate music. Tracks like "Hard Times Killing Floor" embrace the blues fully, but are more like distant cousins of the Mississippi Delta sound than some Friday night post-1960s shoebox emulation like we have become not only accustomed to, but immune to. On "Magnolia", we are invited into an interior sound world, a coupling of Reiersrud's guitar and Nils Petter Molvaer's trumpet, melancholic and beautiful, never self-indulgent: the music again conforms to a level of quality without becoming sterile as it would so easily become in the hands of a lesser musician. By contrast, "Gorrlausen" growls its way into the listener's consciousness before transmuting itself to a bright Bert Jansch-like summerday folk and back and forth to its growl by turns: a showpiece that neither over declares itself nor outstays its welcome. "Tamil" offers, alongside the earlier track, "Eleanor Cross", haunting echoes of what made Ry Cooder great, and is a soundtrack to a movie you've longed to see, but has yet to be made. The combination of almost sitar-like slide guitar and santour is truly evocative and beautiful. More urban, and perhaps sharing more ground with jazz than other tracks on the album is the superb "The Hook", a monolithic centrepiece, with drums, bass, rhodes piano and hammond organ supplied by Bugge Wesseltoft, and electric guitar playing that teases its way through, reminding us of the best blues that Jimi Hendrix produced during his "Electric Ladyland" period. Again, nothing appears in excess, yet never feels overstretched or overly frugal. It's about the music, that Chicago-style blue groove, and Reiersrud's love of this sound is more than apparent, but doesn't overspill into crassly overblown reverence. With "Waltz", we are returned to an acoustic world, and once again, the music speaks clearly and without pretense or bombast, instead telling its own little tale clearly. "Low Swing" has a definably hymn-like feel, with Reiersrud's understated electric blues nuzzling in comfortably as if it should always have been part of such music. However, the listener is given a little surprise when the track suddenly evolves its own special groove, fingersnapping along cooly and confidently with just enough swagger to conjure up a closed-eye head-nodding smile. "Spanking the Plank/In A Key Between D n E" perhaps breaks most with the rest of the album, but never strays so far as to feel like a stranger in its midst. Perhaps the most definably "Norse" track on the album in tone and delivery, it still feels like it has grown from a blues tradition, melodic, punchy and somehow retaining a fluidity and drama that many musicians strive towards but rarely achieve. The final track, "Epilog" brings us into more haunting territory that carries us through that rarely visited space between jazz and blues, more minimalistic in tone, yet emotionally charged with a certain positivity: all too often musicians choose this feeling to express a darkness, or perhaps even a negativity of some kind; instead Reiersrud takes the opportunity to make a piece from these materials that is like the bittersweet closing of a celebration. In total, Reiersrud's "Gitar" is an expressive (not expressionistic) journey through a musical mind and soul that has found a kind of harmony that few manage. For Jazzland Recordings, it is yet another masterpiece in its catalogue. Superb!
Supported by Fund for Performing Artists