Ruben Machtelinckx + Arve Henriksen’s A Short Story

cover art for A Short StoryCount this disc as yet another that is a balm in these extraordinary times. Now, Belgian guitarist and composer Ruben Machtelinckx couldn’t possibly have known that we’d be facing war in Europe as February faded into March of 2022, when he got together with Norwegian brass player Arve Henriksen last August to record this album at the Kunstencentrum Nona performance center. Call it serendipity, although it’s just what they do.

Machtelinckx has been recording for nearly 10 years now, since the Machtelinckx/Badenhorst/Jensson/Wouters quartet released their debut “Faerge” to good notices in the international music press. He’s been involved in numerous solo and collaboration projects since then, including several as Linus with saxophonist Thomas Jillings. Linus has collaborated with many other European folk/jazz musicians including Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Nils Økland, which is how I came to know of Machtelinckx.

In 2019 he released Porous Structures with a different quartet, for which he won the 2020 Klara Award for Best Belgian Jazz release. And as I noted in my review of that album:

Machtelinckx is also a co-founder of the Eurocentric label Aspen Edities and plays in a number of ensembles that feature in its catalog. Most of the acts on the label are aggressively experimental, which is in keeping with Machtelinckx’s vision and practice. This is about as far from commercial popular music as you can get and still call it music – although some people might even balk at that.

On the other hand, trumpeter Arve Henriksen is quite well known to be, as the Aspen Edities press release says, “one of the world’s gentlest, sweetest and purest trumpet players.” He has released more than a dozen albums under his own name, mostly with the Rune Grammofon label, where he has released many solo and leader dates starting with 2001’s Chiaroscuro. He’s also been on many projects on ECM, including one of my favorites from 2021, Uma Elmo led by Norwegian guitarist Jakob Bro with Jorge Rossy on drums.

A Short Story apparently is the result of the first meeting between these two musicians. Guitar and trumpet isn’t a very common pairing, and the two use their extraordinary collaborative skills to great effect on a dozen tracks – all succinct, with only one coming in over 4 minutes. No pyrotechnics, no guitar shredding or fancy fretwork, just quiet, focused experiments in tones, textures and colors. There are definitely some “experimental” or avant garde works here, mostly in brief interludes between some of the longer melodic pieces. “Strands of black hair” has a mysterioius air, Ruben plucking slightly dissonant chords and Arve playing his horn in a way that produces a sound that’s nearly organic, like perhaps Karl Seglem’s goat horn. On “beek 2” Ruben sounds like he’s playing a tiny harp crossed with a dobro and Arve’s trumpet sounds more like a flute. “Pines of Onoe” is a brief exploration of dissonant textures on both instruments, and an air of melancholy pervades “stone garden,” Ruben’s sketchily plucked notes and overtones accompanying Arve’s fluttery, dry, pinched horn explorations.

But for the most part, from the opener “lessness” to the closer “dawnings,” these are gently melodic works. The former begins with a Spanish classical guitar feel and ends up sounding like Bacharach/David tune as played by Kenny Wheeler.

“Towards the redwood curtain” has a sunny, languid California cool jazz vibe. Some are quite cinematic. “Leaves, birds and grapes” evokes sunny slopes of Italy in the summer, with the two playing in near unison with occasional hints of dissonance from Ruben. After an intimate, hushed, almost tentative guitar melody intro, “beek” gives way to another cinematic and sweet tune played partly in unison, Arve again using that flute-like tone. Throughout, they play with variations on unison vs. accompaniment, casually swapping leads and intuitively finding inventive harmonies.

A Short Story can be played gently in the background and it also rewards close focus. Either way, it’s a balm in troubled times, without being formulaic, predictable, or soporific.

(Aspen Edities, 2022)

Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

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