The Norwegian trumpeter’s ninth album feels like an opaque and ambient jazz album you can walk right into. Truly, his instrument always seems on the verge of speaking.
Arve Henriksen makes jazz for people who like ambient music. This might sound like an unintentional insult—the Norwegian trumpeter is well trained and celebrated in jazz circles, and he often performs among Scandinavia’s most prominent younger players, such as Christian Wallumrød—but it’s also hard to deny. Towards Language, Henriksen’s ninth album under his own name, begins with a slumbrous murmur of bass and an unfurling trumpet theme, and this mesmeric register never wavers throughout the album. The melancholy saunter of Henriksen’s lines is isolated and sculpted by glimmering, whirring atmospheres full of emptiness and portent. Testing different ways to contrast eloquent material and enigmatic medium, the record plays like some lost collaboration between Wynton Marsalis and Brian Eno circa Ambient 4: On Land.
Henriksen’s long association with free-improv supergroup Supersilent and its influential label, Rune Grammofon, were his gateways to esteem in circles beyond jazz. But he has earned his wider attention with a trumpet tone so communicative it’s almost psychic, which he has described as being modeled on the breathy, insinuating timbre of a wooden flute. Towards Language would be the perfect album title imaginable for Henriksen if he hadn’t already made one called Chiaroscuro. Sometimes augmented by his ethereal vocalizations, his instrument always seems on the verge of speaking, writing a smoky legato calligraphy on the air. If the language is obscure, the emotions are instantly legible—romantic seclusion, piercing beauty, and a steadfast determination.
Henriksen is joined by Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, two old friends who’ve appeared on some of his greatest albums (Chiaroscuro, Cartography, Places of Worship), as well as the ECM-affiliated jazz guitarist Eivind Aarset. Together they gin up brooding, minimalist chamber music in which the simplest melodies whisper of unfathomable depths of feeling. The outstanding “Groundswell” is a dusky jungle seething with hidden birds and snakes, slow trap claps, and lapping waves of mysterious tonality, before Henriksen fills it up with his leafy curlicues and looping vines. “Demarcation Line” is a showpiece for his signature physics, how he swoons from interval to interval and bends pitches so sweetly it almost cuts.
Towards Language is also infused with a deep sense of history, like an excavation standing open in layers. It’s both personal—the atmosphere of “Hibernal” is tuned by a rusty harbor-bell clank, a device heard as far back as 2007’s Strjon, which suits Henriksen’s noir-ish style so well—and cultural. Album closer “Paridae,” turns a traditional song in the Kven language of Henriksen’s ancestral northern Norway (sung by Anna Maria Friman of Trio Mediaeval) into a waterfall leading to another world. Henriksen creates the feeling of an opaque jazz album you can walk right into, all timbre and feel instead of time and modality, the edges and angles sublimated into aching curves. You don’t need to be able to identify a head melody or count off arcane rhythms, but only to know the way you feel when you see fog slowly seeping through a valley, or smoke curling off a cigarette in the lonesome glow of a streetlight.