Norman Westberg & Jacek Mazurkiewicz – First Man in the Moon

Posted: 16 March 2021 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Hallow Ground – HG2101 – 12th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Norman Westberg, of Swans legend, has a long association with the cranking out of heavy noise. For over three decades, his style was a defining feature of one of the most singular bands, and a rare entity, namely a guitarist who was more than happy to bludgeon away at the same two or three chords for anything up to a quarter of an hour. I would even venture so far as to say that Westberg is a truly unique guitarist, and his appreciation and understanding of space is unparalleled – a player who isn’t only comfortable, but whose signature is a seemingly infinite pause between chords.

In more recent years, Westberg’s output has shifted towards a less abrasive angle, with a succession of solo releases from 2016 onwards exploring overtly ambient territory, through MRI¸ The All Most Quiet, (both 2016) and After Vacation (2019).

First Man in the Moon sees Westberg connect with double bass player Jacek Mazurkiewicz, who supported Swans on tour in Europe in 2014 under the moniker of his solo project 3FoNIA,.The result of their collaboration, recorded during some downtime ahead of Michael Gira’s two Warsaw shows toward the end of 2019, is five improvised tracks of richly resonant evocation. The pitch promises a work ‘beyond the boundaries of atmospheric drone, abstract jazz and experimental music [which] blurs the lines between the acoustic and the electronic.’

It’s all a blur: supple washes of sound painted in broad strokes provide the cloud-like ambient backdrop to clatters and creaks, and the occasional bleep and whirr. It’s very much about the contrast: Mazurkiewicz’s playing is versatile, with his double bass work ranging from deep, brooding sounds that are very much of the instrument, to sonorous booms, to the sound of a tree groaning and about to topple.

How deep do you delve into a work so overly ambient and abstract? At what point does dissection become futile? First Man in the Moon is an album that warrants space, and reflection, to breathe and to simply run its course – an album to bask in, rather than to pick apart. It creates a supple, evolving atmosphere of soft drone and a soporific soundscape in which to cut loose.

A hesitant bass emerges from the misty contrails of ‘That was Then’, and it’s ‘Falsely Accused’ is a slow, tidal throb that ebbs and flows… and not a lot else. First Man in the Moon is an album that drifts on, remaining in the background: it does not demand attention of focus. Attention and focus bring different rewards, but there is a lot to be said for simply sitting back, dimming the lights and sipping a whisky while the sounds of this subtle, nuanced work immerse you.

As collaborations go, Westberg and Mazurkiewicz make for a magnificent pairing, creating an album that shows a touching musical intuition: everything about First Man in the Moon simply flows, effortlessly, naturally, and creates a space in space – that is to say, a mental space in which to empty oneself. It’s rare, and it’s special.

AA

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