Tortusa: Bre

Twenty years ago Bre might have been dismissed as NuJazz, but it's actually an impressive, creative statement in its own right


Norwegian-American electronic musician and producer John Derek Bishop (aka Tortusa) operates in an exciting space where jazz, minimalist electronica and ambient musics are fused into a new and coherent musical language. This is his fourth release for Bugge Weseltoft’s Jazzland Recordings imprint, and its 12 meticulously crafted pieces took three years to complete.

Drawing on samples of his extended family of guest artists, Bishop uses a bank of digital hardware and software, analogue tape recorders and modular synthesisers, processing and re-contextualising the material into vibrant and utterly distinctive sound collages.

What I think makes Bishop’s music so compelling is the winning combination of a painterly eye for colour and a composerly approach to form. With a practically limitless palette of textures and timbres at his disposal, he ensures each piece avoids the obvious and has its own particular ambience. The opener casts Breistein amid howling arctic winds and ominous bass drones, and for all of its hymnal qualities there’s an undercurrent of foreboding.

Så Ossa Altså Ikke almost comes as a release, its skeletal beat, chattering percussion and strange crablike gait wrapped inside Aarset’s dreamy chordal swells. Unbeveglige places Henriksen in exotic Fourth World ambient terrain, but Bishop peppers his palette with a somewhat miasmic tint to create a curious tension.

While Eno, Hassell and Molvær figure prominently amongst Bishop’s musical touchstones, he draws considerable inspiration from contemporary electronica too. Bristen Ingen Kjente and Ørten are chillingly beautiful Biosphere-like soundscapes, and just like Geir Jenssen, Bishop weaves in samples from the natural world. Lyset Likeval takes a nod to the glitchy Berlin school electronica of Oval and Microstoria, while Like Overfor steps into the hallucinatory world of Aphex Twin.

It is only on Ikke Tale that a more traditional Scandi-jazz sound can be detected, although I’d argue that Bishop’s fundamentally melodic, spacious and organically flowing music shares a common aesthetic. Twenty years ago Bre might have been dismissed as NuJazz, but for many listeners Molvær’s sophisticated post-ECM works have become as synonymous with Norway as the music of Jan Garbarek. Whatever your view on the matter, Bre is compelling testament to the rude creative health of a once maligned sub-genre, and an impressive statement in its own right.

Bre; Så Ossa Altså Ikke; Unbeveglige; Bristen Ingen Kjente; Gå Nå; Lyset Likeval; Like Overfor; Ikke Tale; Om Bare; Preget Ulten Minne; Noen Må Ha Sagt At Det Sant; Ørten (44.41)

John Derek Bishop, aka Tortusa (elec) with Erland Dahlen (d, elec) on tracks 1, 4, 8, 11; Inge Weatherhead Breistein (ts, elec) on 1, 8; Eivind Aarset (elg, elec) on 2, 6, 8; Arve Henriksen (t, elec) on 3, 10; Svein Rikard Mathiesen (elg) on 5, 12; Simen Kiil Halvorsen (t) on 9. Various dates.
Jazzland Recordings 377929 9