Spunk, Katherine Young | Constellation | Jazz | Chicago Reader
This is a past event.
When: Wed., March 16, 8:30 p.m. 2016
Price: $20, $15 in advance
Free improvisers face a challenge if they want their music to feel even minimally songlike—go too far toward conventional harmony, predictable repetition, and stable groove, and you become a jam band. And nobody likes jam bands. Kristin Andersen (trumpet, flutes), Lene Grenager (cello), Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje (voice, electronics), and Hild Sofie Tafjord (French horn, electronics), the four Norwegian women who’ve worked together as Spunk since 1995, play as though they’ve dissolved structured tunes into sediment. Ratkje and Tafjord also perform as Fe-Mail, but Spunk aren’t as noisy as that duo—to the extent that you can generalize about Spunk at all. They might coalesce into lovely sustained chords, then segue into feral, unpitched growling and spitting. They juxtapose bass-heavy electronic blurts with airy, sighing flute, and combine demented waltz rhythms with unhinged vocal babbling and hollering. The group’s most recent studio album, 2014’s Adventura Botanica (Rune Grammofon), is relatively serene and lucid, with a harmonic vocabulary stable enough that things can sound dissonant. Sometimes the players shape sinuous long tones like calligraphic brushstrokes, patiently varying their timbre, vibrato, and volume; sometimes frothy, loosely cycling rhythms cohere into a clear tempo, though not everybody follows it. At any moment Spunk might pepper a meditative improvisation with blats, thuds, plunks, or squeals, and Ratjke’s crystalline, athletic voice often erupts into hissing, panting, rasping, or frantic ululating—she’s half angelic diva, half undomesticated forest spirit. The grand, thoughtful melodic gestures seem to partake of liturgical music, folk traditions, and free jazz, and the extended pieces shift in mood and color like a landscape covered and uncovered by swiftly drifting clouds. The music evolves the way a simple organism might: it’s random but not infinitely so, instead guided by the baked-in logic of sequence and viability. This is Spunk’s first U.S. appearance.
— Philip Montoro
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