September 2008

Poolplayers - Way Below the Surface
Songlines SGL SAI569-2
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2008

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

The four musicians who comprise Poolplayers have been performing in Europe for a while, for the most part playing experimental music that takes in a staggering number of influences, from electronica to ethnic music from the third world. The compositions on Way Below the Surface defy categorization, although the description on pianist Benoît Delbecq’s website helps clarify it: "Poolplayers is another surprising manifestation of a direction in free improvised music that’s distinctive but hard to define." Acoustic instruments blend with electronic sounds to create music that is sometimes grating, often oddly beautiful, and always challenging.

The centerpiece of the disc is "Time Makes the Time," nearly 12 minutes of sound and music that incorporate Asian scales, film music, electronic processing and more to create a powerfully moving tone poem. Arve Henriksen’s high-pitched vocals give the composition a plaintive, humane tone, and his trumpet playing conveys a sense of pain and grief. Benoît Delbecq’s work on the piano gives structure to Way Below the Surface, even when it is electronically processed by Steve Argüelles, who creates many of the electronic effects on the disc. All four of the collaborators use electronics to some extent, although Argüelles uses his talents in that area exclusively.

Listeners expecting carefully structured pieces will come away puzzled by Way Below the Surface, but the compositions have an interior logic and resolve -- they don’t simply meander. The sound is clear and undoctored, with greatest resolution on the SACD layer.