One of many 2019 releases from our “to review” queue, Chimaera by Signe Emmeluth’s Amoeba is a fresh and compelling take on structured improvisation. Consisting of Emmeluth on alto sax, Christian Balvig on piano, Karl Bjorå on electric guitar, and Ole Mofjell on drums, this outside offering explores a variety of textures across eight tracks.
While led by Emmeluth, who also takes composition credit, the group is truly a joint venture with all four members having space in which to express themselves. Emmeluth’s writing is as unusual as her labyrinthine sax lines and her occasional lengthy wails. She doesn’t solo as much as present off-kilter melodies and bursts of notes. Thus, the pieces exhibit a playful disjointedness with plenty of start/stop moments and artful use of space.
Balvig’s piano playing is forceful and percussive, with generous doses of staccato chording and classically-influenced rolling melodies. Mofjell is an effective drummer who makes extensive use of cymbals and snare, and rarely falls back on anything resembling a steady beat. But perhaps one of the more notable efforts on Chimaera comes from Bjorå, who uses extended techniques and spiky notes throughout. His scraping, rattling, jangling, and pitch-bending is non-stop and meshes well with Emmeluth’s fragmentary approach.
The quartet refrains from going all out on each track, and instead takes the album in more subtle and experimental directions. The more slowly-paced pieces are introspective, almost ballad-like, and almost hide Emmeluth’s knotty non-comformity. The result is a solid and charming release that grows in stature with each listen.