SIDSEL ENDRESEN AND STIAN WESTERHUS-BONITA.

SIDSEL ENDRESEN AND STIAN WESTERHUS-BONITA.

One of the most eagerly awaited albums of 2015 is Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus’ sophomore album Bonita. It was released on Rune Grammofon, on 12th January 2015. Bonita was the followup to Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus’ debut album Didymoi Dreams. Just like Didymoi Dreams, Bonita is another album of groundbreaking, innovative music. However, while Didymoi Dreams was a live album, Bonita was recorded in the studio.

Didymoi Dreams was a recording of a concert that took place at the prestigious Nattjazz festival in Bergen, Norway. This was a meeting of musical minds. Seamlessly, two of Norway’s finest musicians, Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus, became one. Their understanding was almost telepathic. They fed off each other, driving each other to greater heights. Sidsel was yin to Stian’s yang on Didymoi Dreams. It’s no wonder that when Didymoi Dreams was released, it was to widespread critical acclaim.

On its release in August 2012, critics were won over by what was hailed as a groundbreaking album of innovative music. Critics called Didymoi Dreams one of the best Norwegian albums of 2012. Discerning music lovers agreed. They too, were won over by Didymoi Dreams. Just like the critics, they hoped that there would be a followup to Didymoi Dreams. 

Little did they realise that two-and-a-half years would pass before Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus released the followup up to Didymoi Dreams. In a way, that’s not surprising. Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus are two of the hardest working Norwegian musicians. They’ve enjoyed long and illustrious careers.

Sidsel Endresen’s career as a singer-songwriter began back in the eighties.  Since then, she’s established a reputation as one of the top vocal improvisers in the world. The rise and rise of Sidsel Endresen began in the early nineties.

Between 1990 and 1994, Sidsel Endresen was signed to ECM Records. During this period, she released two albums for ECM Records. So I Write was released in 1990, with Exile following in 1994. After this, Sidsel collaborated with Bugge Wesseltoft.

The collaboration between Sidsel and Bugge Wesseltoft proved fruitful. They released a trio of albums, 1994s Nightsong, 1998s Duplex Ride and 2002s Out Here In There. This resulted in two Norwegian Grammys for Sidsel and Bugge. Since then, Sidsel has been constantly, collaborating, recording and touring.

In 2003, Sidsel collaborated with Christian Wallumrød and Helge Sten on Merriwinkle. Then eight years later, in 2011, Sidsel worked on two collaborations.

The first of the collaborations was between Sidsel and Humcrush. Their critically acclaimed album Ha!,was released on Rune Grammofon in 2011. Sidsel’s other collaboration was with Bram Stadhouders and Jim Black. They released Bell Time on the Muzieklab Brabant label. A year later, Sidsel was involved in another groundbreaking  collaboration.

Joining Sidsel were Jan Bang, Erik Honoré, David Sylvian and Arve Henriksen. They collaborated on the 2012 album Uncommon Deities. It’s best described as groundbreaking and genre-melting album music. It was well received by critics, and hailed as an ambitious album. However, Sidsel’s other collaboration of 2012, Didymoi Dreams received widespread critical acclaim.

Sidsel collaborated with Stian Westerhus on Didymoi Dreams. Released to widespread critical acclaim, this meeting of musical minds resulted in one of the best Norwegian albums of 2012. No wonder. Sidsel’s collaborator, Stian Westerhus, was a hugely talented musician. 

Over the last few years, Stian Westerhus has established a reputation as one of Europe’s most accomplished and innovative abstract guitar players. This has been the result of a lifetime’s work. That’s how long it’s taken to hone and tame his unique sound. As a result of his dedication, Stian has been constantly in demand as a session player, mixer, recordist and producer. Then there’s three solo albums and numerous collaborations with the great and the good of Norwegian music. The story began back in 2006.

Back then, Stian was a member of Puma, who released their debut album Isolationism in 2006. Puma’s sophomore album was the brilliantly titled Discotheque Bitpunching. It was released in 2008. Then in 2010, Puma released their final album Half Nelson Courtship, which was released on Rune Grammofon. However, this wasn’t the only album Puma released.

No. In 2009, Puma and Lasse Marhaug joined forces. Their successful collaboration was  Fist Full Of Knuckles. It was released to widespread critical acclaim and was seen as a union of innovators. This isn’t the only collaboration Stian’s been involved in.

A year before the release of Fist Full Of Knuckles, Stian had collaborated with Eldbjørg Raknes and saxophonist Eirik Hegda. The result was From Frozen Feet, released in 2008. The same year, Stian collaborated with Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset on Laden With Rain. Together with his work as a session musician, this stood Stian in good stead for his solo career.

It was 2009 that Stian’s solo career began, when he released Galore. Released on The Last Record Company, a subsidiary of Rune Grammofon, Galore was mixed, recorded and produced by Stian. His 2010 sophomore solo album, Pitch Black Star Spangled was released on Rune Grammofon and saw Stian further develop his abstract guitar style. Critically acclaimed, Stian was seen as one of Norwegian music’s leading musicians. That’s why he was constantly in-demand as a guitarist, vocalist and later, a producer

This includes adding vocals to Bladed’s 2009 album Mangled Dreams. Then in 2010, Stian played on Jaga Jazzist’s One Armed Bandit album. Stian played everything from percussion, harp,effects, twelve-string guitar, baritone guitar and electric guitar. Then to round off 2010, Stian played on Maurhaug’s All Music At Once. 2010, had been, without doubt, the most productive year of Stian’s career.

2011 saw Stian play on Ulver’s War Of The Roses album. He also played harmonium, mixed and produced Nils Petter Molvær’s Baboon Moon. For Stian, this was all good experience for his solo career, which he returned to in 2012.

The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers was Stian’s fourth solo album. It was released in 2012 to critical acclaim. Critics hailed this genre melting album Stian’s finest album. That wasn’t the end of 2012 for Stian. Far from it. 

During 2012, Stian collborated with Bol and Snah. Billed as Bol, Westerhus, Snah, they released Numb, Number. Then Stian collaborated with Norwegian jazz vocalist Sidsel Endresen on Didymoi Dreams. This was an album that pushed musical boundaries to their limits, and sometimes, and way beyond. Stian’s blistering, searing guitar licks and Sidsel’s explosive bursts of vocal were a potent partnership. Genres melted into one as Stian and Sidsel challenged musical norms. Ambitious, brave and groundbreaking describes this opus. After this, Stian decided to change direction and founded Pale Horses. 

Pale Horses are an electronic rock trio, but they’re not exactly a new band. Stian, keyboardist Øystein Moen and drummer and percussionist Erland Dahlen all played together in Puma. Øystein Moen also was a member of Jaga Jazzist. Stian made a  guest appearance on their 2010 album One Armed Bandit. So musically, they knew each other really well. The only difference is the type of music that Pale Horses will be playing. Puma’s music is best described as a fusion of experimental, jazz and post rock. That’s quite different to the music on Maelstrom, which without doubt, was one of the finest Norwegian albums of 2014. Given the success of Stian’s previous  collaboration, then this bodes well for Bonita, his collaboration with Sidsel Endresen.

Recording of Bonita took place at Oslo Klang Studio in August 2014. It was recorded by Johnny Skalleberg. Stian mixed and produced Bonita during September 2014. Mastering took place during September 2014, by Helge Sten at the Audio Virus Lab. Once Bonita was recorded, it was ready for release on 12th January on Rune Grammofon. It had been a long time coming.

Two-and-a-half years to be precise. However, at last, one of the most eagerly awaited albums of the last six months is out, Bonita. It’s the much anticipated followup to Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus’ debut album Didymoi Dreams. However, was Bonita worth the wait?

Opening Bonita is the title-track, Bonita. As Sidsel delivers a vocal that veers between sultry, to urgent, dramatic and confrontational and even sensual. Meanwhile, Stian wields his guitar. Briefly, it heads in the direction of surf guitar. Soon, machine gun licks are unleashed. Amidst the sound of effects and feedback, Stian tames and transforms the guitar. This is done via pedals and effects. At one point, his guitar sounds as if it’s providing the soundtrack to a futuristic computer game. Still, Sidsel is combining drama, urgency, emotion and power, as she and Stian deliver a virtuoso performances.

Stabs of spacious, space-age sounds open Ripper Silk. Filling some of the space, is Sidsel’s enquiring, inquisitive vocal. Soon, it’s apparent she’s asked a question she shouldn’t have. Behind her, an eerie, sinister, chilling and cinematic backdrop unfolds. It’s no wonder her vocal is full of fear. She literally bristles with emotion and tension, as crashes bursts of guitar and bubbling sounds assail her.  Sidsel reacts to Stian’s cinematic backdrop, delivering a powerful, emotive performance, one that’s chilling and realistic.

Baton, like Ripper Silk, has a cinematic sound. A buzzing sound moves towards you, growing in power. Strident, chiming guitars, plink and clink. They join sci-fi sounds and Sidsel’s vocal. Seamlessly, she reacts to the music that’s unfolding. That’s because Stian and Sidsel have an almost telepathic musical understanding. Her vocal’s croaky, improvised, vocal is, tinged with emotion, and urgency. Meanwhile, Stian produces a swirling soundscape. His guitar chimes, sears and blisters above the arrangement. Using effects he transforms the dry signal. It becomes what can only be described as Hendrix-esque. The addition of sci-fi sounds proves the perfect addition to a seven minute epic.

Boom Boom has an understated arrangement. This comes courtesy of washes of ethereal guitar. They provide the backdrop to Sidsel’s tender, heartfelt vocal. It’s full of emotion and has a vulnerability. Behind the vocal, swells of music rise and fall. They come courtesy of Stian’s guitar  Theyre the perfect accompaniment to Sidsel, on this beautiful, ethereal and melodic track. 

The arrangement to Knuckle Tattoo sweeps along, occasionally beeping and squeaking. It’s hard to believe this is the work of one man’s guitar. It is though. Mind you, that guitarist is Stian Westerhus. With his guitar and trusty effects, he’s responsible for an arrangement that compliments Sidsel’s melancholy vocal. Sometimes, the arrangement grows dark and dramatic. However, never does it overpower SIdsel’s vocal. Instead, it compliments and frames her fragile, thoughtful vocal.

White Mantilla is the centrepiece of Bonita. It’s an eight minute epic. Sidsel’s husky, atmospheric vocal becomes frail and fragile, as the arrangement grows and builds. Buzzing, chiming and sometimes, taming feedback, Stian showboats. Meanwhile, Sidsel’s vocal is akin to a cathartic outpouring of emotion and hurt. Later, Stian takes centre-stage. His backdrop becomes dark, then stops, starts, and bathes in walls of feedback. After that, it heads different directions, crackling, buzzing and paying homage to Pink Floyd, circa Dark Side Of The Moon, and Wish You Were Here. As the arrangement pulsates, it makes its way towards you. That’s when Sidsel’s tender, wistful vocal reappears. Sung against the minimalist, moody arrangement it’s spellbinding and captivating. Literally, it stops you in your tracks.

The Pink Link is a short soundscape. Thanks to Stian, his gutar and effects, it has a cinematic quality. As the arrangement buzzes, squeaks, beeps and creaks, Stian successfully tames feedback. This isn’t easy, and takes a talented guitarist. Having done this, it becomes part of a soundscape that’s best described as cinematic, experimental and futuristic.

Having tamed the tiger that’s feedback on  The Pink Link, Stian successfully uses washes of reverb on Solemn Vista. This allows his chiming, crystalline guitar to trip, slowly into the distance. Accompanying it is a slow, thoughtful bass line. They provide a subtle, thoughtful, accompaniment to the ethereal beauty of Sidsel’s improvised vocal. 

Blue Punch closes Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus’ sophomore album Bonita. A myriad or crashes, banges are joined by muted guitars and then futuristic sound effects. Meanwhile, Sidsel delivers a strutting, swaggering vocal. She feeds of Stian’s playing. As his muted, machine gun licks grow in power, and drama, so does Sidsel’s vocal. She’s determined to match him ever step of the way. The result is a grounbreaking, innovative collaboration between two generations of Norway’s top musicians.

Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus’ sophomore album, Bonita, was one of the most eagerly awaited albums of past the sixth months. It was released on Rune Grammofon, on 12th January 2015. Bonita was released two-and-a-half years after Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus released their debut album Didymoi Dreams. Just like Didymoi Dreams, Bonita is another album of groundbreaking, innovative music from two of Norway’s most adventurous and prolific artists. 

Both Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus have collaborated with a wide range of artists. This has stood them in good stead. The music on Bonita is best described as ambitious, adventurous, bold, eclectic, groundbreaking and innovative. Seamlessly, two the best Norwegian musicians of their generations fuse musical genres and influences. This includes elements of ambient, avant-garde, experimental, jazz, psychedelia and rock. These genres melt into one, resulting in music that can only be described as unique.

On Bonita, Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus pickup where they left off two-and-a-half years ago on their debut album Didymoi Dreams. Somewhat belatedly, Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus two of Norway’s finest musicians, became one, yet again. They renew their almost telepathic relationship on Bonita.

It’s as if Sidsel reacts to Stian’s guitar playing. Similarly, as Sidsel improvises, her music veers between dramatic, ethereal, heartfelt, sensual and urgent. Listening intently, Stian picks up on a change of direction. Straight away, Stian reacts. His trusty guitar and effects take the listener on a musical adventure. He’s responsible for washes of blistering, dramatic ethereal, jagged, fuzzy, scorching and understated music. This is the perfect compliment for Sidsel’s vocals. Feeding off each other, they drive each other to greater heights  on Bonita. That’s why Bonita manages to surpass the quality of music on Didymoi Dreams. Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus seem to be a musical marriage made in heaven.

Hopefully, Bonita won’t be the last collaboration between Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus. After all, what could be better than another collaboration between two of the most talented and successful Norwegian artists? They’re like yin and yang on Bonita. Sidsel’s vocal is the perfect accompaniment to Stian’s guitar. They bring out the best in each other, driving each other to greater musical heights. That’s apparent throughout Bonita’s nine tracks. From the opening bars of Bonita, right through to the closing notes of Blue Punch, Bonita proves an ambitious, captivating, innovative and genre defying album, from Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus,who are, without doubt, two of Norwegian music’s most talented artists.

SIDSEL ENDRESEN AND STIAN WESTERHUS-BONITA.

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