Bendik Giske, "Cracks"
I have been quite keen to hear just about everything that this Norwegian saxophonist releases since he damn near stole the show on Caterina Barbieri‚Äôs Fantas Variations earlier this year. Thus far, I have yet to be disappointed and this latest solo release beautifully continues Giske's ascendance as one of the most compelling saxophonists on earth. When I first heard Cracks, it reminded me of Pauline Oliveros's hugely influential Deep Listening, as much of it feels like a killer sax solo reverberating around a vast subterranean space leaving dreamlike ghost trails in its wake. As it turns out, that is a masterful illusion, as Giske got to the same place in a very different way (and with very different conceptual inspirations). One of those inspirations was Jos√© Esteban Mu√±oz‚Äôs Cruising Utopia, which suggests that "queerness must strive towards futurity." A healthy portion of Cracks' futurity was provided by producer/collaborator Andr√© Bratten, as the album was recorded in "the new 'resonant' space of Bratten's reactive studio tuned to his original sounds." The album's description further notes that Cracks brings Giske "one step closer to the man-machine," but the beauty of the album for me lies in how effectively he combines intimate intensity with hypnotically repeating patterns.
The opening "Flutter" is aptly named, as it begins with a breathy, fluttering pattern hovering at the edge of audibility. Gradually, a warbling and tender melody takes shape and the piece blossoms into something wonderfully broken and beautiful. "Flutter" is one of the most simmering and understated pieces on the album, as the central pattern feels like little more than breath and flapping keys, but most of the remaining pieces share a very similar structure. "Cruising" soon solidifies what that structure is: Giske unleashes winding, serpentine arpeggios akin to Phillip Glass-style minimalism, but with a twist: those arpeggios almost always spiral outward into something strangled, howling, or tenderly poignant (and sometimes all within the same piece). Bratten's hand plays a crucial role on "Cruising" as well, as the visceral intensity and gnarled textures that Giske wrests from his sax cut through a hallucinatory fog of long, lingering decays. It is quite an effective balance of sharp and soft textures, as the snarling central melodies stand out in stark relief while a deepening spell of unreality slowly intensifies in the background. The title piece is the sole divergence from that aesthetic, as the ghostly fog takes over completely for a long interlude of murky, billowing ambiance. The strongest piece on the album is "Void," which follows the expected arc of repeating arpeggios splintering into howls of anguish, but represents that arc in its most perfect form. Or maybe I just like the central melody more than usual. In either case, "Void" hits quite an effective balance of animal intensity, poignance, and flickering psychedelia. The closing "Matter (part 3)" is yet another strong variation on the album's "unraveling patterns" aesthetic, but it packs more of a throbbing, seething tension than the rest of the album. While I have not yet fully warmed to the title piece, Cracks is otherwise nothing but wall-to-wall greatness. I love the seemingly raw, intimate simplicity of these pieces, as Giske is an absolute genius at transforming a few arpeggios into something howling, unpredictable, and vibrantly alive.
Samples can be found here.