During the lockdown, bassist Sigurd Hole took a deep dive into rainforest field recordings, as well as how sonics reflect the resilience of ecosystems. In his research, he discovered how indigenous populations around the world typically view themselves as an intrinsic part of their environments rather than a force to shape and bulldoze their surroundings to fit a profit-driven agenda. He brought these themes to life with an imaginative ensemble in a relatively rare 2020 public performance in an Oslo church early that winter. He also had the good sense to record the show, and has released it as an album, Roramia, streaming at Bandcamp.
For Hole, whose previous release was a mystically epic solo double disc, this is an especially lavish production. He takes the album title from a tabletop mountain on the northern Amazon, home to an increasingly threatened native population who have been devastated by disease. displacement and deforestation brought by invading mining companies. Playing along to recordings of tropical deep-forest sounds, his supporting cast includes Trygve Seim on sax, Frode Halti on accordion, Hakon Aase on violin, Helga Nyhr on hardanger fiddle and vocals, Tanja Orning on cello and Per Oddvar Johansen on percussion. Scores of other artists have done what you might call ambient chamber jazz improvisation, but Hole’s is especially dynamic and full of surprises.
The concert begins as wisps of harmonics mingle within a pastiche of jungle ambience: Hole transcribed some of his lines from red-billed toucan song. The suite is built around a series of Brazilian jungle creation myths, and the associated deities. Gently tremoloing phrases echo and repeat; desolate Nordic fiddle melodies make a surreal contrast, punctuated by a regal gong. As usual, Hole utilizes the entirety of his instrument’s sonic possibilities, from the highest of harmonics to looming percussion on the body.
Percussion and pizzicato strings simulate a rainforest backdrop as the accordion wafts warmly through a moon spirit depiction. Mystical, shamanic drums give way to similarly magical, melismatic microtonal sax and moody, modal massed orchestral riffage.
Calm circular motives that recall Terry Riley at his most Indian-influenced are a recurrent trope, sometimes in contrast with aching, acidic high strings. An elegantly syncopated forest dance takes on unexpected but striking Middle Eastern tinges. Suspense and spriteliness mingle in a twinkling vibraphone interlude that quickly dissolves into otherworldly shivers from the strings. Another brings to mind the Claudia Quintet, but with half the notes.
As the concert goes on, hypnotic lushness reaches orchestral majesty, circularity returns, Hole takes a fleetingly punchy solo, and the ensemble finally hit a lively, flamenco-inspired peak with the sax going full steam. It wouldn’t be fair to give away the ending: as an eco-disaster parable and sobering call to action, this has few equals in jazz.