It's only in performance, that Paal "Strangefruit" Nyhus's true value can truly be appreciated. Yes, he's a turntablist (purists can prefix that with "dreaded," though they'd be grossly mistaken), but he's also much more. He's a sound sculptor who, like Brian Eno and John Cage, finds music around every corner. He possesses an extensive record library, from which to source some of his sounds, which would shame even the most pathological collector. Over the past decade, this Norwegian sonic explorer and manipulator has provided real-time soundscaping, enriching projects including guitarist Eivind Aarset's Connected (Jazzland, 2004), and trumpeter/Nu Jazz progenitor Nils Petter Molvaer's Streamer: Live (Sula, 2004).
An integral part of the extended Punkt family, Nyhus makes it clear that music comes from many sources, and not only conventional instruments. He's also demonstrated that real-time sonic manipulation can be an improvisational premise as exciting as any other. The debut of Mungolian Jet Set's (the moniker for his group as a leader) Beauty Came to Us in Stone was released in 2006, but still warrants a serious look, as it's a groundbreaking album that, in a different time, could have been considered a classic.
It is a classic, despite its relatively limited availability; a series of nine interconnected sonic collages providing a cornucopia of settings, textures, grooves and ambiences. The credits reveal that Nyhus isn't giving away many secrets, despite the participation of nearly twenty artists known to those following the contemporary Norwegian scene, amongst them Jazzland head Bugge Wesseltoft, Punkt co-artistic directors Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, Scorch Trio's Paal Nilssen-Love and sonic manipulator Knut Saevik, who performed with Nyhus and Peter Baredn at one of Punkt '06's live remixes.
Rhythms underscore much of the continuous Beauty Came to Us in Stone, but they're far from solely being in the techno-beat arena with which musicians like Nyhus are often unjustly affiliated. There's no shortage of found sounds; still, "When You're in Need (is a Constant Thing in Change)" features a marvelous piano solo by Haavard Wiik over a sumptuous Latin-esque groove taken to new places through sampled vocals, Roger Ludvigsen's slide guitar, Richard Thomas' in-the-weeds flute and Wesseltoft's palette-enriching Fender Rhodes.
That Beauty Came to Us in Stone's genre is not definable, despite markers from a wide range of recognizable styles, speaks to a philosophy that music is a broad and infinitely ranged spectrum. Finding ways to twist this musical continuum, so that seemingly disparate styles can comfortably co-exist as if they've been doing so all along, is what makes Beauty Came to Us in Stone such a thoroughly compelling masterpiece of sonic montage. Were Miles Davis alive today, Nyhus may well have been a recruit. Meanwhile, for those interested in how technology can be organically applied, Beauty Came to Us in Stone is not just an album that should be heard, but one that absolutely must be heard.
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