Tortusa is the project of electronic musician John Derek Bishop, who hails from Stavanger in Norway. On his second album, Bishop has assembled perhaps one of the strongest Norwegian jazz groups ever committed to record – drummer Erland Dahlen, guitarists Eivind Aarset and Svein Rikard Mathisen, trumpeters Arve Henriksen and Simen Kiil Halvorsen, and saxophonist Inge Weatherhead Breistein, Bishop’s collaborator on 2017’s ghostly Mind Vessel.
Except, a group – at least in the traditional sense – it most definitely is not: Bishop’s sleight of hand is to take samples of live performances by each of the musicians before adding analogue synthesisers, field recordings and computer processing to create imaginative, powerfully ruminative soundscapes. By his own acknowledgment, many of the musicians feeding into the twelve pieces on Bre are some of his heroes; yet his approach on a piece like ‘Bristen Ingen Kjente’, featuring Erland Dahlen, is to suppress the drummer’s rhythms into mere whispers, so vague that finding his playing is a little like trying to locate an imperceptible pulse in a hibernating woodland creature. Rather than using Dahlen’s dextrous playing to create the foundation of his track, Bishop instead uses a field recording of endlessly running water, through which appear tiny moments of treated percussion.
Sometimes the contributions are more pronounced. Breistein’s sax melody on the album’s title track carries a delicate, questioning quality that’s presented more or less as the musician would have played it; on ‘Lyset Likevel’, Aarset’s guitar ripples and shimmers over a dubby pulse. You can undoubtedly tell that Bishop has a weakness for Henriksen’s trumpet playing. His contributions to ‘Ubevegelige’ and ‘Preget Uten Minne’ might be treated with echo and surrounded by all manner of unpredictable sonic interventions, but Bishop leaves the trumpeter’s melody more or less intact, creating a haunting, stirring, inquisitive Souk-like atmosphere in the process.
The closest that Bre gets to the Norwegian supergroup suggested by gathering these luminaries together is on ‘Ikke Tale’, featuring Dahlen, Aarset and Breistein. On ‘Ikke Tale’ you can hear Dahlen’s gently polyrhythmic drumming, even if it’s placed far off in the distance; Breistein peels off some contemplative after-hours melodies; Aarset offers some pretty, blues-y guitar licks. On one level, this is a traditional jazz trio, but it’s one that’s strangely detached, deconstructed and reassembled, presented with a sparseness and reverb-drenched ambient aesthetic that is entirely Bishop’s own.
Bre by Tortusa was released March 5 2021 by Jazzland. Thanks to Jim.
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