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Tytingvåg Ensemble: Let Go Instrumentals

img  Tobias Fischer

In concert, the stories behind Randi Tytingvåg's pieces can seem as important as the actual music itself. A passionate and wilful jazz singer born in Norway and educated in London, she has made the wold her stage, but returned to her roots for inspiration: If you closed your eyes during her performances in the hall of an old castle in the small German town of Lüdinghausen, you were literally taken on a trip to her home town of Stavanger, where everyone seemed to know a little anecdote about her and where her tales chronicled the little everyday-life dramas and dreams being played out behind closed doors. In her private world, relationships can turn into fully-fledged „wars“ and love can make life seem like a „trip to the moon“, difficult neighbours can be punished with a beautiful melody and wonderful husbands rewarded with a brittle anthem. By intricately intertwining her personal experiences with her empathetic pieces, Tytingvåg is sympathetically and powerfully making these songs her own. It would be hard enough imagining someone else singing them without distorting their meaning, which makes the experiment of Let go Instrumentals seem all the more incisive: In an act of radical acoustic surgery, her vocals were simply cut from the master of her international breakthrough album, leaving nothing but the ensemble.

The term „let go“ is therefore attaining a second meaning here: Tytingvåg is stepping back behind the music, like a mother saying goodbye to her children, while trusting that they can make it on their own. The step extends far beyond the lines of the dub aesthetic, in which tracks are reduced to a skeleton of bass and drums and sent through an array of electronic effects as part of a meditation on minimalism - for even though they still retain their full instrumentation, the arrangements are still built around the typical verse/chorus organisation of a vocal piece. The reason why the idea works in this particular case is because the „Tytingvåg Ensemble“ are actually not just a randomly assembled backing band, but an integral part of the creative process, comprising a quintet of highly individual musicians. Their phrases, lines and licks may foremost be there to support the song, but they are simultaneously always weaving a much finer, in-between-the-lines texture as well, a fine web of airy harmonic allusions and sensitive thematic threads. Despite her succinct and engaging stage presence, Tytingvåg is really a classical band leader who knows she can only excel with the support and creative input of her band. During her Lüdinghausen-performance, the conventional concert routine of winding off one song after another was replaced by a mysterious stream of consciousness, as part of which minute-long accordion-mantras turned out to be introductions to intimate confessions and quirky cabales were sounded out by groove-driven jam sessions by the whole formation. But it is equally true with regards to her studio albums, which are undeniably to-the-point, while still leaving plenty of space for soaring solos and quiet moments of reflection.

And so, entirely against the odds, there never seems to be something missing here. The impression of Let go Instrumentals for someone who has never heard the original will be of an extremely subtle and refined atmospheric jazz album with a chambermusical lightness of touch (partly achieved by the absence of a percussion instrument, partly by the warm tones of the instrumental colours) and a delicacy of interaction which suggests it was either recorded in the middle of the night or in the early hours of the morning, times of the day when all senses are particularly sensitive and the weight of each note is greatly increased. The wide lyrical arches of the vocal melodies have disappeared and short motivic cells have moved to the fore, with the players engaging and disentangling themselves in a gentle stream of constantly shifting constellations in which the former hooks are now taking on the function of recurring Leitmotifs. Each of the musicians is awarded his spot in the limelight and occasionally, as on folk-tinged opener „Rat Race“ or emotionally disturbed „So Long“, there is even room for extended solo parts and channeled outbursts of energy. But soon enough, the actor resumes his position in the fold, returning to the flow, the mood, the unity of the group.

Intriguingly, however, and despite the album's title, Tytingvåg is never entirely absent here. One of the tracks is called „Ghost“ and indeed, the singer's presence lingers over these pieces like an invisible presence, like a spectre haunting the great hall and courtyard of a castle. It is technically speaking correct, as the press release has done, to claim that the band are now indirectly responding to melodies that are no longer there. But it would be even more to the point to say that they are now quite directly interacting with the empty spaces their departure has created. After all, Let go Instrumentals is not a re-recording or a re-edit and the initial balance between the different parts hasn't shifted. Just as before, the musicians are still operating in the background, which is why parts of the record sound as though they were performed with utmost restraint. And although Tytingvåg has been cut from the mix, the space surrounding her is still there, leaving a mysterious echo and all but forcing the listener, rather than the musicians, to fill in the gaps. At times, the resulting balance can seem to tend towards the sugary, and yet some of the most impressive passages on the new album occur when the sparse, yet always precise formulations attain a purely chromatic functionality, when, as on closer „Beautiful“, Espen Leite picks up and repeats Anders Aarum's piano statements on the  accordion and the bittersweet chord progression is sublimated from a state of nocturnal reflections to something sublime and blissfully intangible, a passage in between waking and sleeping, when the music seems to come from faraway and the borders of physical reality are being re-negotiated.

And so, without uttering a single word, Randi Tytingvåg has nonetheless left her mark on the work. Maybe this is what Let go Instrumentals really is about: A short moment of absence, a brief shift in perspective, an instant of reflection and silence. But behind the notes, her stories always shine through: These are still her songs.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Randi Tytingvåg
Homepage: Ozella Records

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