There have been countless attempts to counteract the inherently boring nature of the CD as an artefact and the approach adopted by Feral shapes up better than some on the strength of this first release, which takes some excellent music by saxophonist Iain Ballamy (in the company of three young Norwegian musicians) and packages it with a set of intriguing print artworks by Dave McKean in an elegant library case. On the other hand, we may now be so accustomed to the blandness of the format that any attempt to escape it seems like a distraction. While debating this, it's important not to forget to play the disc, which is quite remarkable and a far cry from Ballamy's formative years in the sprawling bloke-jazz outfit Loose Tubes. Recorded live at the Molde Jazz Festival in 1998, it's astounding that this music seems to date from the very beginning of Ballamy's association with these musicians, given their obvious level of empathy.
Norwegian Hardanger fiddle specialist Nils Okland has a broad range of musical interests, as illustrated by his eclectic discography. His solo album Monograph (ECM, 2011) spotlighted his lyrical, folkloric side; Lysøen—Hommage à Ole Bull (ECM, 2011) with keyboardist Sigbjorn Apeland payed tribute to the Norwegian classical tradition; Lumen Drones (ECM, 2014) found him making trance music with two rock musicians; and the recent Felt Like Old Folk (Smeraldina-Rima, 2016) collaboration with the Belgian duo Linus was almost completely improvised. He was also a member of Thomas Stronen's "Time is a Blind Guide" band, although he does not appear on the recording.
The second ECM album by Norwegian cooperative group The Source gets back to basics. Since its formation in 1993, when founder-members Trygve Seim, Øyvind Brække and Per Oddvar Johansen were all students at the Trøndelag Conservatory of Music in Trondheim, The Source has been very much a moveable feast, its motto, "No two concerts alike!" The group has embraced the wildest stylistic collisions, working variously with poets and DJs, rai vocalists and rappers, ice hockey players, and conceptual and performance artists. Their collaborators have ranged from rock band Motorpsycho to classical musicians including the Cikada String Quartet (as on their 2000 ECM recording The Source and Different Cikadas). Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of their performances have been as a quartet, most of their music was written for quartet, and this eponymously titled disc addresses a backlog of much-played material whose appearance on disc is overdue.