Do you know D.C.?
Get our free newsletter to stay in the know about local D.C.
When Arve Henriksen appeared at the House of Sweden in June, the gray-suited trumpeter performed several tracks from his fourth and latest solo album, Cartography. At the core of the exceptional new disc is the pairing of breathy trumpet work and muted electronics, a combination that is, at times, reminiscent of Supersilent, Henriksen’s well-regarded band. Formed in the late ’90s, the Norwegian outfit has gone through many phases in its career. But all of its music—from the mellow electronics of 5 to the chaotic noise of 8—traffics in the ebb and flow of jazz improvisation. Befitting a band that never rehearses, Supersilent responded to the recent departure of drummer Jarle Vespestad by doing what you might expect an adaptable ensemble to do: soldier on. In mid-February, about a month before the sessions that yielded the group’s sixth and latest full-length, 9, Henriksen told me that Supersilent, which also features guitarist Helge Sten and keyboardist Ståle Storløkken, was still trying to figure out how to make the new lineup work. What they came up with is an all-keyboard trio, one in which all three musicians play the Hammond organ. The instrument, which is defined by a hard-yet-breathy sound, has been used to good effect in pop (Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited) and jazz (Larry Young’s Unity), but Supersilent’s latest is something else entirely. The album, a concert recording that opens with a tessellated growl (“9.1”) and closes with a funeral parlor drone (“9.4”), contains little in the way of melody or motif. And none of the tricks Supersilent once used to break up the dynamics of improv—Henriksen’s gorgeous falsetto, Vespestad’s unpredictable drumming—are present in the mix. So what does that leave? Unfortunately, the answer is not much. 9 is the closest that this sometimes rambunctious band has come to living up to its name, and what you can hear on the disc, when you can hear much at all, is so tonally abstract that even the most forgiving of experimental music fans may cry foul. Coming as it does on the heels of Cartography—Henriksen’s slickest and most accessible effort—9 suggests that the trumpeter, at least, is channeling his best ideas elsewhere. As a solo artist, Henriksen was once the sideshow. Now, for those in search of otherworldly jazz, he is the main event.