Photo: Donovan von Martens
Arter is a duo album by pianist Karin Johansson and saxophonist Lisen Rylander Löve, their first collaborative project. Johansson is a member of several other projects, including the group Ord, a trio with bassist Nina de Heney and drummer Henrik Wartel, a duo with bassist Finn Loxbo, and the Jonny Wartel (Henrik’s younger brother) quartet. Löve is a member of two different jazz quartets, The Splendor and Here’s To Us, and was one-half of the electronic duo Midaircondo, who ceased operations in 2015.
Although the music on Arter is fully improvised, and was recorded in a single day in a studio in Gothenburg, Sweden, it’s thought-out and meticulously structured, with a lot of post-production to turn it into a fascinating miniature sonic universe. Each woman performs on multiple instruments; Johansson plays traditional and prepared piano, and kalimba, while Löve plays tenor sax, percussion, kalimba, and live electronics, and also contributes vocals. Together they create eerie and quite beautiful atmospheres.
The pieces tend to be relatively short, establishing a simple set of sonic parameters, exploring a single idea until it reaches its limit, then ending. Nothing here overstays its welcome.
The album begins with “Skimrande nervblad,” on which gentle, slow piano figures are shadowed by subtle rattles and scrapes like someone stacking cutlery in a drawer, and wavering electronic drones that sound at times like manipulated voices, or like the ring of a European phone from the 1980s. On “Drakblomma” Johansson’s piano sounds like a train, chugging and rumbling with occasional sweeps across the strings and metallic scrapes like someone yanking down a chain-link fence, while Löve’s voice, warped by electronics, mutters and half-sings indecipherable phrases like a ghost beaming in by short-wave radio from the darkest corner of a basement.
The disc’s final track, “Cirkelkrabba,” is also its longest, at 8:23. It starts out seeming like an organic sax-piano interaction, with the occasional clank from the silverware drawer in the back, but at the two-and-a-half-minute mark, Löve samples a single sax note, repeating it like a patient pulse, and adds a murmuring, exploratory solo on top, eventually layering in more phantom saxes, warped into a kind of underwater keening. Through it all, Johansson’s piano rumbles and plunks along, operating at the bottom of the keyboard’s range and remaining undisturbed; she’s on her own path as her partner creates a kind of buzzing hive of selves.
I’ve never heard anything that sounds exactly like this. It has a gentleness of spirit that recalls folk music, but is clearly a product of the 21st century. The way Johansson and Löve exploit technology has nothing to do with pop forms, but also avoids the spiritual aridity of so-called “experimental” music. They want you to feel something when listening to their work, and more often than not they get their wish.