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Hans Fjellestad - "33"

San Diego-based pianist / composer Hans Fjellestad is a sound collector. His music picks up and discards a lot of things on the way to where it's going. Keyboards, strings, field recordings, ambiances, shards of styles, analog noise – all get fed into the curiousity-shop of his mind. Out comes 33, a wide-ranging collection of pieces which start in one place and often veer off into unexpected, alien lands: sort of the aural equivalent of Joseph Cornell's wonderland boxes, those unsettling little dioramas of bourgeois unease and Dada humor. Often this effect is due to Fjellestad's juxtaposition of pristine piano with noises and processing of various raw varieties. Fjellestad takes plenty of chances cobbling together his little worlds. 'El Cavernario', with echo, flange, reverb and computer, begins with messed-up piano mirror-samples; a drone kicks in, building, via noise-blocks, to an echo-y rhythm-jam; then, some distorted Mexican radio filters in and it turns programmatic – a rude depiction of a cross-border night flight. The opener, 'San to San', throws out a stack of cool sounds all at once, then a door opens and we're in a club in Japan, with talk and laughter and skittery, distant piano runs. An ominous drone lifts up and flies us back over the Pacific. 'Cabrito' is the ne plus ultra of 'Klangfarbenmelodie', a way-cool pulse track of sampled piano preparings; toward the end it downshifts into a sad, Tim Burton-ish lullaby. 'Smoke Shank' is marred by an undegested forkful of free-jazz noodling wedged in between more thoughtful plinkings and creepy, wind-sucking vocalisms. The noisier he gets, the better. The piano-only passages aren't so memorable; there, the lack of focus is plain. Otherwheres, there's heaps of fascinating sonic jetsam in Fjellestad's little resonance-boxes, rewarding listening over and over again.

     - Tom Djll, Signal to Noise

Hans Fjellestad's multidisciplinary approach to his work — he's concurrently musician, filmmaker, artist, and, word has it, boxer — reflects through the scattered directions of his musical exploration. He's worked with the Trummerflora Collective, in the Donkey duo, released albums of soundtrack work, contributed to a collection of Christmas music, and with 33 he returns to the piano, an instrument he's drawn on since childhood.

If there's a thread that runs through 33, it's one of tenacity and exploration. One can picture Fjellestad approaching the instrument from all angles, mangling and mauling the strings, preparing the piano in myriad forms with unrecognizable and malformed implements, feeding the results through arcane systems and bolstered electronics. A good portion of the album trades in an austerity that offers up to the listener a connection with modern composition — the frantic hammerings and note-scrawls of certain pieces reflects Conlon Nancarrow's work fo impossible mechanised pianos, where other explorations hint at serialism. When Fjellestad introduces electronics he often smears the source sounds into great waves of slippery tonalities or burping interjections.

33's drive is toward continual exploration, and there's an impressive level of risk-taking going on here. For that, Fjellestad is to be applauded. But there's a sense that Fjellestad's work doesn't quite shift into a truly transcendent gear. All of the pieces collected here on 33 are discretely listenable blocks of manipulated and stretched sound stuffs, but the album sits a little too closely toward being an explanation of a series of events and experiments, as opposed to a genuinely listenable whole. 33 is fascinating and full of energy, but sometimes it feels like it wants to be admired more than loved."

     - Jonathan Dale, Grooves

Fjellestad has appeared in a number of the Accretions reviews over the issues, and returns from the soundtrack of his film in &2003_d with a solo album featuring the piano - on every track but combined with field recordings, nord lead 3, computer and megaphone feedback to produce a much broader album.

'San to san' presents it all in its complexity - simple piano then noisy field recording, tinny percussion, birds and electronic squarbles while the piano is percussive in the background. Then some picked strings, abstractly into a dramatic solo with tones whistles and voices around.

There are some pure piano pieces - 'Hash knife' is the first where the full on solo escapes from the keyboard and runs into the body hitting strings and sound boards before returning to the front. Later 'Pica' is a quite modern classical solo and then 'Mink eyed' is slow, more considered and delicate.

There are ones like 'Don garlica' where the piano seems to gate weird electronic squiggles and there is more string than key play, some percussive effects and a deep slow piano later. The building layers of tones, twangy notes and loops that build and withdraw in 'El cavernario', or the switching between a solo with breath intakes and honky plonking with computer squiggles and back before a subtle conclusion in 'Smoke shank'.

Two tracks - 'Kylling' and 'Cabrito' - use piano samples to re/create a different sound: percussive looping Caribbean in the first and a more musique concrete constructivism in the second. 'Suit' actually uses accordion for a breathy resonant washing. A further method is bowed piano. In 'Wriggling call' it shimmers with some clicks and sqrls, rhythmic and soft, while for 'Phone damage' there are warm electronic long tones again subtle and delicate but with some computer playfulness around.

After all that review jumping about, we end with 'Pacifico' which takes a squeal that could be a monkey or accordion, adds some futsy popping rhythm that dances as the piano emerges. Fast and pulsey it builds and drops, whizzes and woobles in, some Theremin and drone which take the loop end.

This is an exciting album - it takes the concept of a solo piano album and runs rings around it. It is both playful and serious, is not an easy album, but definitely interesting.

     - Jeremy Keens, Ampersand Etcetera

Hans Fjellestad's follow-up to his Red Sauce Baby album is an eclectic blend of solo piano, electronics, and combinations of acoustic instruments and electronics. Fjellestad alternates and blurs the lines between the conventional and the avant-garde, on one track playing the solo concert pianist, yet on the next the experimental sound maniupulator. As the CD opened I liked the strange combination of free-improv piano, percussion, strings, fields recordings, and freaked out running up and down the short wave radio band on "San To San". But moving on to "Hash Knife" we're treated to the maddened concert pianist.

Fjellestad's talents on the keyboard are showcased throughout the album, and some of the most conventional music is the best. "Smoke Shank" is among my favorites, being a piano piece that covers a range of emotions, floating seamlessly through various classical and jazz stylings. Fjellestad continually, and often dramatically, shifts the pace of his playing from quiet and serene to wild eyed and frenzied. "Pica" is an excellent piece with a bit of Gershwin flair (I recall a similar influence on Red Sauce Baby). "Pacifico" is similar, but as if to highlight the traditional vs. avant-garde nature of the album, the piano is combined with radio wave electronics. Another standout in this regard is "Don Garlica", a playful duel between the acoustic piano and space electronics.

Fjellestad also leaves behind conventional stylings on several tracks. "Suit" is a subtle piece featuring waves of sound that exude a slow quiet passion. "Wriggling Call" is a combination of harsh string maniuplations, machine shop ambience, and cool robotic electro grooves. "Phone Damage" is one of the more purely electronic explorations on the album consisting of pulsating tones, sound waves, and various other electronic bits and voice samples. And "Cabrito" is an interesting free-improv acoustic/electronic blend with avant-tribal percussion.

In addition to the solo pieces, Red Sauce Baby included tracks with a fuller band lineup. In my review of that album (see AI #16) I commented that I enjoyed these latter tracks better. But I found the sparser and more considered piano and electronic studies on 33 to be captivating, and I enjoyed being flung between Fjellestad in the concert hall and Fjellestad the sound artist. And notably, Fjellestad the filmaker comes through at all times as his music has a distinct image inducing and narrative feel. (See also review of Fjellestad's "Frontier Life" documentary film soundtrack in this issue.)

     - Jerry Kranitz, Aural Innovations

This third solo album by Hans Fjellestad takes us elsewhere, away from his writing for ensembles (featured on Red Sauce Baby) and into a more intimate sound world centered on the piano. The fixture of bourgeois boudoirs is approached as a cultural icon, a mean to channel emotions, a source of noise, and a tool of inspiration. And the pianist doesn't stick to this sole instrument, he also uses an old analog synthesizer, computer, sampler and field recordings to create strange studio constructions that often stray far away from conventional piano music. Then again, you would't expect anything less from Fjellestad. 'Hash Knife,' 'Pica' and 'Mink Eyed' are piano-only pieces (if you take out the occasional vocal interjection). In them, the pianist shows his odd integration of the free jazz (Cecil Taylor, Borah Bergman) and contemporary (Fredric Rzewski, John Tilbury) idioms. 'Hash Knife' contrasts manic key runs with sparse string-plucking and wood-hitting, while 'Mink Eyed' is lightly dissonant romanticism. But the best moments are found in the hybrid pieces where the piano's discourse intermingles with electronics and studio wizardry. 'Smoke Shank' pairs a piano improvisation punctuated by over-accentuated grunts from the pianist with episodes of digitized reconfiguration. In 'Phone Damage,' he puts the e-bow to the piano strings, although this is only one detail in an eventful piece that unfolds like cinema for the ear. The computer construction 'Cabrito,' with its beautiful soft-spoken finale, provides the undisputed highlight.

     - François Couture, All-Music Guide

Hans Fjellestad steers a most unusual solo course on 33. Through the technology of this digital age, he augments his piano playing with sampler, synthesizers, accordion, and electronics commingled with street noise and talk recorded in numerous international cities. From an acoustic standpoint, Fjellestad stands as an adventurous experimental improviser who adopts a percussive approach on the keys. He establishes dense layers of cascading sound with spirited runs across the breadth of the keyboard.

The lower end of the sound spectrum is home tomuch of Fjellestad's explorations. His notes weigh in heavily, providing substance and body to his performance. Fjellestad also examines the inner workings of the piano, where he plucks and strikes the strings to instill an eerie ambiance. While his playing is fully unstructured and free, his use of electronics establishes a base form of rhythm/movement/continuity/diversity. This augmentation to his acoustic playing builds in levels of stratified sound/noise without sacrificing the musicality of his concepts

Fjellestad paints 13 portraits on this recording."Smoke Shank" puts his piano improvising on display sans electronic overlay except for an occasional whispered background voice. It shows the introspective side of his thought process and allows him to muse subjectively in conveying images of great sadness. In contrast, "Sult" is a dirge-like experiment on accordion complete with reverberant nuances. Fjellestad enjoys using samples of the human voice as an integral part of the music. This overlaid street talk pops upunexpectedly and normally dissolves as synthesized musical segments take control.

"Pica" again portrays Fjellestad as an acoustic solo artist, although on this piece he expounds from the upper register in contrast to his more ponderous exercises on the lower side. His improvisations throughout the recording provide an insight into his mindset, protraying a musician whose concepts run in the very deep and cavernous pools of his mind.

33 promotes Fjellestad as an innovative musician whose creativity emerges through his internal perspective as well as from the annexation of external factors. He hears music in all things around him, and his combination of these diverse accoutrements translates into a challenging musical experience.

     - Frank Rubolino, All About Jazz

Se in questo periodo, in diverse uscite, era la chitarra a fare le veci del paziente con il musicista inscenare il fantomatico ruolo di chirurgo intento a trasformare la fonte originaria dello strumento in astratti paesaggi sonori ascoltando "33", a firma del giovane Hans Fjellestad, si torna ad uno dei primi strumenti, se ci è consentito fare un azzardo, ad aver subito trattamenti e manipolazioni nella storia della musica contemporanea: il pianoforte. Fatta la premessa, le dovute presentazioni ci narrano di una figura poliedrica ed estroversa, anche nell'attività di filmaker, nel cui curriculum sono annotati studi con George Lewis, performance in compagnia di vecchie tigri dell'avanguardia, quali Muhal Richard Abrams, Peter Kowald e nuovi astri come Le Quan Ninh. Fjellesteid, al contrario, nel registrare predilige un abito individualista, slacciando i sentimenti verso piano, fisarmonicapolistrumentismo. La rotazione intorno al globo (con una predilezione per i paesaggi sciamanici del Messico) forma su di esso un appeal in cui deserti, temperature calde, sole luccicante scorrono costantemente negli affreschi che crea. La globalizzazione dei suoni si unisce ad una seriosa preparazione accademica fondata su strutture, propriamente, jazzistiche. Dunque il disco è un calderone di stili disparati, della volte anche contraddittori l'uno dall'altro. Per attestarci sul piano tecnico, Hans attacca il piano dentro e fuori avvalendosi di strumentazioni elettroniche (computer, synth, megafono), semplici oggetti (bottiglie, pietre, legni), nomadismo (registrazioni ambientali raccolte in giro) fisicità (pugni, strattoni, gemiti). Quando, al contrario, il suono non viene trattato ci si addentra in territori informali devoti a certo percussionismo Tayloriano, oppure cedendo con la stanchezza a melodie jazzy dal facile ascolto (Smoke Shant quasi una jam session tra Jarrett e Milton). Si incrociano spazi per divertissement ironici dallo spessore sghembo e stralunato (Kylling non sfigurerebbe come base ai rauchi blues di Waits in "Swordfishtrombones"). Al momento dell'ascolto ho sfilato dai miei dischi le introversioni verso l'oscurità di Ross Bolletter e le virate nella non-coscienza di Steve Peters. Solo che in questo viaggio i deserti, le montagne che costeggiano il tragitto, le stelle che adornano un ipotetico cielo blu scuro non brillano di lucentezza piena come allora, rimanendo a tratti fioche. Da ricercare nell'ostinato tentativo di abbracciare più continenti, tradizioni diverse. Ricordiamoci di segnare i momenti migliori che si scorgono nei paesaggi cosmici di Sult (per computer e accordion) a momenti di soffice improvvisazione per solo piano (Pica) fino alle inaspettate calate verso un ambient organico di Radigueiana fattura (Phone Damage).

     - Sergio Eletto, Kathofik


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