Book and CD Reviews

Without Words: Viggo Mortensen's Time Waits For Everyone

Source: Malibu Arts Reviews Magazine

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A solo venture by local underground jazz artist Viggo Mortensen, this new Perceval Press CD Time Waits For Everyone fits into the ranks of the turn of the Century composers. The works as a whole are originally crafted products of human sensibility interpreted through jazz improvisation. Consonant motifs resolve into dissonant chords where pedals and keys linger on an idea of solitude in the minimalism of a single repeated note. The slow transformation of chords is merely one facet of these minimalist poetic Lieder without words, or art songs, sequenced into Liederkreis, or a song cycle.

Time Waits For Everyone can be linked to the prior works Intelligence Failure and Please Tomorrow. The group of CDs is a seeming three-part modern Liederkreis. Please Tomorrow felt like it was about getting to dawn. Intelligence Failure, which plays out dark motifs, instrumentation and chord structures, felt like the tense fight between dark and dawn. Time Waits feels like it is about being dawn. Similar ideas were heard in the prior two works but are more fully resolved in Time Waits.

None of the motif continuation critique is to berate the works as mere repeats. Rather, the most current of the three is more complete, much like Mortensen's work in I Forget You Forever. In that book, a similar idea was visually executed with images often presented with little to no text and no need to do so. The repeated theme in those photos could be seen as always looking into something or being looked at - or voyeurism. Open windows, open and empty shelves, photos with a vignette creating a sense of telescope or womb - each photo carried a sense of being watched or watching with the ultimate end dark with empty and bloody carcasses. Here too the Lied does not need the spoken word to convey its strong emotion. Music's history holds the Lied was interwoven with the German language but influences were found also from French composers Claude Debussy and Louis Berlioz, among others. The work uses phrasing styles from nocturnes and preludes, and the idea of a Sonata, or to sound, versus a Cantata, or to sing. Time Waits For Everyone reveals a more mature pianist than what the musician let show in prior releases.

This sudden surge of confidence is perhaps most evident on the track Danube Poem. Here Mortensen's masterful use of the pedals is combined with strong feelings and motifs from Debussy's Claire de Lune, a similar idea also found on Please Tomorrow's track Moonset. Both tracks created deep meditation euphoria, another facet of the modern Lied in the New Age genre. All three also have a brief encounter with children's song motifs, such as Three Blind Mice. The revisited feeling of such minimalism in this work conjured feelings of a political statement on the emotionally blank age of war. If one musically translated Mortensen's beautiful poem Back to Babylon, Danube Poem would be it. Traversing back and forth in gentle contrapuntal woven segments, deeply emotional progressions are juxtaposed against the passionless and sexually dry. Therein lies the brunt of tension found in Time Waits For Everyone.

Heavy Russian elements also found in the Lied style, at times, strained the delicacy of Mortensen's half-pedal craftsmanship, specifically on the track Treblinka Poem. The touch of the hand on the keyboard is so soft. Yet, the dominating demand of the blurred bass line begged for a more dissonant chord structure never fully realized. The choices create an unresolved tension. The track leaves the listener with an insecure and restless sense of surrounding - a Lament. The harmonic dissonance created an exploration into very dark emotions. Perhaps Treblinka Poem is about dark and light conflict - or the way Yin and Yang are in constant battle to catch one another. Beethoven created an entire work out of a theme without dampers in the very famous song Moonlight Sonata, or Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor Quasi una fantasi, translated to Like a Fantasy. Here too a minimalist feeling was created in several of Beethoven's repeated single notes also enhanced by the lamenting blurred bass line. In slight contrast, Treblinka Poem uses a quasi-bass ostinato to create the lamentation. The term would put the work in that of a classical style, but the idea can cross genres into jazz, if labeled a riff. Such words roughen the semi-modal delicacy of Mortensen's work here though. This is the other conflicting theme for Time Waits: the work combines genres with well-executed jazz improvisation crossed with strong classical influences.

The music was not the only minimalist work on this new CD release. On the cover, the way the tree is backlit by the sun gives a feeling of a slow build like dawn, which matches the music very well. The sparse use of image also gives a similar feel to that of the music. Using a natural image reflects the asymmetric and organic feel of the improvised music. The cover image leaves the viewer with the feeling they have seen that tree - down on Red Rock trail or maybe along another trail here in Topanga, or in other parts of the world. The feeling was not just about having seen the tree someplace. The image manifested into feelings the viewer has stood underneath that tree in the same sort of place, such as when lying in trees as a kid - just like the fence in the photo Grandview in the book I Forget You Forever. Most have seen that fence somewhere in their mind's eye.

The way the names are written on the inside cover are the same - minimalist. The only name spelled out is Uncle Henry's. The only use of color on the inside is the red for Time Waits. The title is not even finished - it is just a mere Time Waits For. The sparse use of words, images and notes left a lot to discover in the mind's eye, or heart, or wherever art comes from - that dreamy place. Maybe that is the best part of Mortensen's minimalism. The listener can choose which way to respond.
Last edited: 29 January 2011 10:18:08