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Oren Ambarchi / Johan Berthling / Andreas Werliin - Ghosted Music Album Reviews

Oren Ambarchi / Johan Berthling / Andreas Werliin - Ghosted Music Album Reviews
Recorded live at Stockholm’s Studio Rymden in late 2018, the trio showcases a carefully stripped-down, psych-jazz sound where the groove reigns supreme. 

Multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi, bassist Johan Berthling, and drummer Andreas Werliin are well acquainted with the pleasures of letting go. Veteran improvisers and experimental musicians, all three have been playing together in various configurations for two decades, exploring what happens when sound spills out of its frame. Among their recent collaborations, Berthling and Ambarchi’s 2015 album Tongue Tied united a mutual interest in drone with their shared instinct for bone-quaking pulses; then, Ambarchi brought both musicians on board for the 2019 performances that yielded last year’s Live Hubris, an astonishing album pairing Glenn Branca-grade guitar clang with rhythms inspired by Can’s Jaki Liebezeit. But Ghosted is different; it trades their propensity for cutting loose with a newfound interest in dialing back and zooming in. These tracks are plenty muscular, but there’s no bulge, no bloat. They’re as sculpted as the six-pack on a plastic superhero costume.

On Ghosted, the groove reigns supreme. Recorded live at Stockholm’s Studio Rymden in late 2018, the album showcases a carefully stripped-down sound. Berthling plays acoustic double bass on all but the second track, where he opts for electric. Werliin favors a palette of shakers, toms, and glancing snares, sketching out the contours of the beat by tracing its crags and cavities. And while the timbre of Ambarchi’s guitar couldn’t be mistaken for any other instrument, he typically avoids strummed chords or picked melodic lines in favor of a wash of tone run through a Leslie cabinet. The three players fill this wide-open sound with ephemeral shapes that hint at a possible meaning behind the album’s title: The music swims with darting shapes, flickering traces of energy, that feel almost supernatural in origin.

Ghosted consists of just four tracks: three long, extended vamps and one atmospheric coda. The trio is joined on the first, “I,” by Christer Bothén, a Swedish multi-instrumentalist who collaborated with Don Cherry in the 1970s. Here, as on recordings like Cherry’s 1974 album Eternal Now, he plays donso n’goni, a lute-like West African instrument that pairs with Berthling’s bright plucking to create a sound that’s warm and luminous. It’s the most joyful and easygoing of the album’s four tracks, with a shuffling, circular groove and a loping two-note bassline that evoke the feel of a desert road arrowing endlessly toward the horizon. In tone and mood alike, it’s faintly reminiscent of Joshua Abrams and his group Natural Information Society, where the guimbri—a North African descendent of the n’goni—plays a similarly hypnotic role.

On “II,” Berthling swaps his acoustic bass for an electric, on which he plays a single repeated riff for all nine and a half minutes of the song’s running time, tapping out the sort of harmonics that were Jaco Pastorius’ signature. But where Pastorius, on songs like “Portrait of Tracy,” used the effect to hint at the ineffable, as though grasping at moods his instrument wasn't otherwise meant to capture, Berthling keeps his head down and his control all but mechanical. His playing is so steady, it’s easy to wonder if he used a looping pedal—but everything on the record was played in real time, Ambarchi says. Berthling has overdubbed a low-end bassline to add some dubby punch; Ambarchi’s processed guitar sounds almost like a bowed violin. The whole thing moves so naturally, it might take you multiple listens to realize that it’s in 7/8 time; credit Werliin’s locked-in yet fluid drumming, which draws from the same deep well as Can’s “Future Days.”

On “III,” the players tackle an even trickier time signature, but once again, they make it feel as intuitive as breathing. Where the preceding songs are sprightly and vivid, the nearly 16-minute “III” goes long on atmosphere. Berthling again lays down the unchanging groove, his instrument’s tone as smooth as driftwood, while Werliin’s deep, booming toms offer the faintest suggestion of a melodic counterpoint. Propelled by the Leslie cabinet’s quickening-and-slowing rotations, Ambarchi’s guitar is all shimmer, dancing like the Northern lights above the craggy shapes sketched out by his bandmates.

It’s an example of jam-based minimalism at its most transcendent: endlessly repetitive, yet born anew with every bar. The band probably could have drawn this meditative, trance-like track out to an entire album’s length. Instead, they let us down gently with “IV,” a dirge-like song in the same key that spreads out like an oil stain. It makes for a satisfying finish: After the clockwork mechanics of the first three tracks, “IV” feels like they’re letting go again, giving into entropy as the coiled grooves relax into ambient ooze.
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Oren Ambarchi / Johan Berthling / Andreas Werliin - Ghosted Music Album Reviews Oren Ambarchi / Johan Berthling / Andreas Werliin - Ghosted Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, May 12, 2022 Rating: 5

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