Stein Urheim-Utopian Tales.

Label: Hubro Music.

Stein Urheim was born, and is still based in the beautiful coastal city of Bergen in 1979. That was where he grew up, and first discovered music. Soon, his life seemed to revolve around listening to, and playing music. The first instrument Stein Urheim learn to play, was the guitar. Since then he has expanded his musical horizons.

Nowadays, Stein Urheim is best described as a multi-instrumentalist, who owns and plays a wide variety of stringed instruments. Many of these instruments, Stein Urheim has picked up as he travels the globe. Some of these instruments featured on Stein Urheim’s new solo album Utopian Tales, which was recently released by Hubro Music. However, the instrument that takes centre-stage on Utopian Tales is Stein Urheim’s slide guitar.  It plays a starring role on Stein Urheim’s eagerly awaited fourth album Utopian Tales, which is the latest chapter in a story that began back in 2001.

That was when twenty-two year old Stein Urheim’s recording career began in earnest. He was determined to make a living as a professional musician. One of Stein Urheim’s first appearances was on Unge Frustrerte Menn’s 2001 album Dronningen Av Kalde Føtter. The following year, Stein Urheim went from sideman to centre-stage.

By then, Stein Urheim was the guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist in Steady Steele And The Starseekers. He had written most of the songs on their eponymous mini album. Steady Steele And The Starseekers was released in 2002. When the band returned the following year, they were now called Steady Steele. The newly named band released their sophomore album Steady Steele in 2003, with Steady Steele II following in 2004. When Now’s The Time…Maybe was released in 2006, this proved to be Steady Steele’s swan-song. However, the time spent with Steady Steele was part of Stein Urheim’s musical apprenticeship.

So was the tine Stein Urheim spent working as sideman. He worked on countless project before embarking upon a solo career. This was all good experience, as he was worked with different types of musicians, including with some of the biggest names in Norwegian music. 

Among the projects Stein Urheim featured on, was Barabass and The Happy Few’s 2004 album Rali Rei. Four years later, Stein Urheim accompanied Norwegian singer-songwriter Erik Møl on his 2008 album Good To Go, and HP and The American Dream on the album Uncle Johnny Had A Cool Guitar. The following year, Stein Urheim accompanied Sergeant Petter on his Sgt. Petter album and  HP and The American Dream on the album Uncle Johnny Had A Cool Guitar. By then, Stein Urheim was already planning on embarking upon a solo career.

In 2009, Stein Urheim released Three Sets Of Music, which was an eclectic triple album. It had been recorded between 2006 and 2008, and featured some of the biggest names in Norwegian music. They accompany Stein Urheim as he showcases his versatility and flits between folk, blues, jazz and psychedelia. However, it would be three more years before Stein Urheim’s solo career began in earnest.

As a new decade dawned, word was spreading about Stein Urheim, and his services were constantly in demand. In 2010, he played on Sigrid Moldestad’s album Sandkorn. The following year, Stein Urheim played on accordionist and vocalist Gabriel Fliflet’s album Åresong. By then, Stein Urheim was also member of HP Gundersen’s band The Last Hurrah. However, still Stein Urheim wanted to embark upon a solo career. 

This was what he had been working towards, and his dream came true when he signed to Hubro Music. In April 2012, Stein Urheim released his eagerly awaited debut album Kosmolodi on Hubro Music. It announced the arrival of Stein Urheim, who was immediately regarded as one of the rising stars of the vibrant Norwegian music scene.

Less that a year later, in February 2013, Stein Urheim and Mari Kvien Brunvoll released their first collaboration, Daydream Twin. It was so well received, that it was nominated for a Spellemannprisen, the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award. Buoyed by the success and reception of Daydream Twin, Stein Urheim began work on his eponymous sophomore album. 

Almost a year to the day, and Stein Urheim returned with his eponymous sophomore album. It was released to widespread critical acclaim in February 2014. Suddenly, Stein Urheim’s music was known internationally, and he was being hailed as one of the most innovative Norwegian artists of his generation. However, Stein Urheim wasn’t one to rest on his laurels. 

Instead, Stein Urheim has recorded and released his second collaboration with Mari Kvien Brunvoll, For Individuals Facing The Terror Of Cosmic Loneliness. It was an ambitious and genre-melting album that unsurprisingly, was released to overwhelming critical acclaim in October 2015. However, that wasn’t the only project Stein Urheim had been working on. 

After a two-year absence, the Bergen based, multi-instrumentalist Stein Urheim, returned with another album of ambitious and innovative music, Strandebar. It was released to widespread critical acclaim in August 2016, with critics calling it his finest hour.

Now a year later, and Stein Urheim returns with his eagerly awaited fourth album Utopian Tales, which was released by Hubro Music. Stein Urheim was joined by a handpicked band of top Norwegian musicians on Utopian Tales, whose roots can be traced to 2016. 

That was when Stein Urheim received a commission from Vossajazz to write some new material for the Voss Jazz Festival 2016. This was fitting as Stein Urheim had won the Voss Jazzfestival Award in 2010. Six years later, and Stein Urheim found himself commissioned to write much of the material that later became Utopian Tales. This was just the start for Stein Urheim and the music on Utopian Tales.

When Stein Urheim decided to record the music he had been commissioned to write for the Voss Jazz Festival, he made the decision to adapt and extend the music by rerecording some of the music and adding solo pieces. The result was an ever-changing 

musical tapestry that featured a variety of styles and textures that play their part in what’s essentially an evolving commentary on the concept of microtonality and its various social and intellectual connections.

Ever since the mid-twentieth century, microtonality has influenced  many contemporary musicians, including maverick musician, composer and instrument-maker Harry Partch. He was behind the revival of the ancient idea of ‘just intonation’, through microtonal tuning which he used on his own custom-made instruments. Since then, many musicians have followed in the footsteps of Harry Partch, and microtonality has grown in popularity.

For the non-musicians, microtonality is the small gaps between the notes in music. They’re much smaller than the gaps between the notes in Western music. In Western music, they’re seen as a reflection of the hierarchical structures in society at large and the traditional class structure. By comparison, microtonality uses intervals that are much smaller than a semi-tone, and can be perceived as reflective of a freer and more fluid social order. Stein Urheim examines this overlap between music and society on Utopian Tales. 

It’s an imaginative and innovative album where Stein Urheim draws inspiration a variety of ideas and associations, ranging from architecture, alternative art, countercultural communities, philosophy and even speculative science fiction. The result is an ambitious genre-melting album.

Utopian Tales fuses acoustic Americana which comes courtesy of Stein Urheim’s slide guitar, with ambient electronic soundscapes and diversions into avant-garde, experimental and contemporary jazz sound of The Cosmolodic Orchestra. They were formed especially for the recording of Utopian Tales which is a journey into the imagination of Stein Urheim.

With the help of six top Norwegian musicians, Stein Urheim takes the listener on a journey to the imaginary lands of Mikrotonia, Carnaticala and Just Intonation Island, and what was once regarded a Norwegian nirvana. This was the Selegrend Movement, which was a utopian alternative community of the seventies, which was established not far from Bergen, Norway, which is home to Stein Urheim. It’s also where some of Utopian Tales was recorded.

Utopian Tales was recorded at Gamlekinoen, Voss, in March 2016 and at Laksevåg, Bergen, September 2016. Stein Urheim played slide guitar, guitars, bass, lute, tambura and sampler. The sampler triggered the samples that played their part in the soundscapes. So did the various sound that became part of the collages. Joining Stein Urheim to record this musical adventure, were some of the great and good of Norwegian music.

This included Building Instrument’s Mari Kvien Brunvoll, Moster!’s Kjetil Møster and Ole Morten Vågan of the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. They were joined by Jøkleba’s Per Jørgensen, Jørgen Træen of Sir Dupermann and Kåre Ophir of the Real Ones. This all-star lineup helped Stein Urheim to record Utopian Tales, which featured some of the most ambitious, cerebral and innovative music of his career.  

Opening Utopian Tales is Ustopia Part One, where an acoustic guitar is picked as Stein Urheim unleashes washes of dreamy, shimmering slide guitar. Suddenly, it becomes choppy and dubby, before becoming ethereal and elegiac as a beautiful, dreamy soundscape unfolds. Before long, it’s all change as the picked guitar and slide guitar combine. Meanwhile, a myriad of sounds emerge and play their part in this captivating multilayered soundscape. As it washes over the listener it reveals it subtleties and surprises,

There’s an otherworldly sound to Mikrotonia, which is one of imaginary places Stein Urheim invented for Utopian Tales. Soon, the otherworldly sound becomes dark, almost ominous and eerie as it meanders along. Effects are deployed, and transform the soundscape. Gone is the darkness as a guitar chirps and the soundscape becomes crystalline, cinematic and futuristic. There’s even an otherworldly sound to what sounds like part of the soundtrack to a sci-fi film, and is guaranteed to set the listener’s imagination racing.

A double bass plays as Just Intonation Island unfolds, and is joined bursts of a swirling bass clarinet and a distant cooing vocal. They’re augmented by a variety of samples and found sounds as Stein Urheim sculpts the soundscape. It bubbles, shimmers and sometimes, becomes otherworldly. Later, an impassioned vocal is added, before a myriad of disparate sounds assail the listener. This ranges from strings and a trumpet to array of samples and found sounds. Then as the soundscape builds, there’s an urgency and drama, before effects are deployed. At one point, it’s as if some of the sounds are being played backwards. Later, the music becomes eerie, futuristic and otherworldly as sounds cascade, bubble, swirl and scurry before and another array of sounds are unleashed as the Cosmolodic Orchestra improvise and Stein Urheim adds bursts of rocky guitar. Together, they create an imaginative and inventive, multilayered genre-melting soundscape full of surprises.

Melancholy and otherworldly describes Letter From Walden Two as Stein Urheim and his all-star band create a spacious, shimmering soundscape. Soon, it takes on a jazz-tinged sound as a trumpet plays, before cymbals crash and bass is scrabbled and is joined by the guitar. By then, the band is jamming playing with a freedom and fluidity as genres melt into one. Still drums provide the heartbeat, as guitar shimmer, horns rasp and a bass helps power the arrangement along. Sometimes, there’s an Eastern sound as Stein Urheim and his band create a soundscape that is variously urgent, understated, lysergic, dreamy, exotic, ethereal and melodic. 

As Trouble In Carnaticala unfolds, a mixture of traditional and exotic instruments play their part in a genre-melting soundscape. Soon, Stein Urheim and his band are seamlessly combine elements of jazz, avant-garde and drone music with funk, fusion and Eastern sounds. For just over three captivating minutes, Stein Urheim’s decision to embrace microtonality proves to be a masterstroke. They put their expanded musical palette to good use, as an array of disparate sounds tantalise the listener on another ambitious and melodic soundscape. 

For the first twenty-seconds of Hear The People Sing, Stein Urheim’s guitars take centre-stage. They’re then joined by dreamy,  thoughtful vocal on this understated soundscape. Soon, the vocal becomes fuzzy and lysergic, before the guitars take centre-stage. They’re then joined by the vocal before this joyous and memorable song reaches a crescendo.

Stein Urheim’s playing on The Clown is slow, careful and deliberate, with the merest hint of reverb added to his guitar. They set the scene for the vocals, which includes Mari Kvien Brunvoll who adds a tender, elegiac Mari Kvien Brunvoll. Meanwhile, the slide guitar weeps and shimmer, while the bass and later soul-baring rasping horns are added. They take centre-stage, as the rest of the band frame the trumpet. It adds the final piece of jigsaw to this heart-achingly beautiful song. It’s without doubt one of the finest moments on Utopian Tales.

Although The Selegrend Movement lasts less than a minute, this is plenty of time for Stein Urheim to showcase his considerable skills. His guitar chirps and shimmers, as a horn brays and combines with futuristic and otherworldly sounds this musical amuse bouche.

A rasping, atmospheric and muted horn plays slowly on Ustopia Part Two, leaving space between the notes. This adds an element of drama to this minimalist soundscape. Soon, the horn is replaced by a chirping, weeping guitar and eerie, otherworldly sounds. They’re joined by a bass clarinet and scatted, ethereal vocal as the soundscape meanders along. Before long, the scatted vocals are replaced by heartfelt vocals. One of the vocalist is Mari Kvien Brunvoll, whose dreamy vocal sweeps in and out, and sits above the chirping, crystalline guitar. It soon reverts to a tender scat, but continues to play its part in the sound and success of this beautiful understated and melodic soundscape.

Pala closes Utopian Tales, and straight away, Stein Urheim’s guitar takes centre-stage. Mostly, his playing is slow, spacious and thoughtful. It speeds up during brief runs, as the guitar chirps, cheeps and weeps. Always, Stein Urheim’s playing is full of emotion as one of Norway’s top guitarists closes his fourth album on high. He’s kept one of the best until last.

After ten soundscapes lasting forty-four minutes, Utopian Tales which id the most ambitious, innovative and thought-provoking album of Stein Urheim’s career is over. It finds Stein Urheim embracing microtonality, and examining its various social and intellectual connections on Utopian Tales. 

With microtonality the gaps between the notes in music are much smaller than the gaps between the notes in Western music. In Western music, they’re seen as a reflection of the hierarchical structures in society at large and the traditional class structure. By comparison, microtonality uses intervals that are much smaller than a semi-tone, and can be perceived as reflective of a freer and more fluid social order. This will be something that music fans won’t have contemplated…until now. Utopian Tales is without doubt an ambitious, cerebral and thought-provoking genre-melting music.

Stein Urheim who has been inspired by everyone from John Fahey to Roger Eno, Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd and John McLaughlin circa Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, showcases his considerable skills on Utopian Tales. Along with all-star Norwegian band, they fuse elements of acoustic Americana with ambient, avant-garde, contemporary jazz, electronica and experimental music. There’s also diversions via free jazz, funk, fusion, Musique concrète, rock and what John Cage called small music. The result is a captivating album of soundscapes, Utopian Tales which was recently released by Hubro Music.

Utopian Tales is akin to a rich and vibrant musical tapestry which was woven by Stein Urheim and his all-star band. They create ten sound that veer between atmospheric to beautiful, ethereal, elegiac to cerebral and thought-provoking to melancholy, rueful and ruminative. The multilayered soundscapes are also evocative and emotive, and rich in texture, and often have a cinematic quality as Stein Urheim paints pictures with his music.

To do this, Stein Urheim combines a myriad of traditional and exotic instruments,  and adds to this array of electronic, samples, field recordings and found sounds. They were part of Stein Urheim’s newly expanded musical palette, which he put to good when he sculpted the ten groundbreaking soundscapes that became Utopian Tales. It found  Bergen-based musical pioneer Stein Urheim embracing microtonality on the his genre-melting opus Utopian Tales, which is without doubt, the most ambitious, cerebral and thought-provoking and album of his two decade career. 

 Stein Urheim-Utopian Tales.

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