Mark Solborg: Babel

Danish guitarist leads a set of bleak, now modal, now atonal, generally rubato music featuring trumpet, piano, clarinet and percussion


For Danish/Argentinian guitarist Mark Solborg language and dialect are central and recurrent themes within his work. His ambitious three-volume Tungemål series took a deep dive into the challenges of integrating the electric guitar into a contemporary chamber-music setting. Experimenting with an array of ingenious string preparations, amplification and speaker placements, his quest for the perfectly balanced instrumental voice knows very few bounds.

Putting theory into practice, Babel started life as a festival commission. It brings together many of the voices heard on Tungemål Volumes I-III, the reference to the Tower of Babel intended as a celebration of both linguistic and cultural diversity. The prevailing mood is subdued and reflective, the musicians occasionally weaving in tape recordings of 18 interviewees, each speaking different languages to express their individual hopes, likes and fears.

The album opens with the first of three short Interludes, each of which is a portal into a dusky landscape where the only natural sounds are sweet birdsong and cicada chatter. The longer pieces typically unfold slowly and with purpose, tightly structured yet sufficiently open to encourage conversational interplay. Toldam’s Feldmanesque piano recalls John Tilbury’s former role in AMM on Talk #2: Choir / Ecoutez, and Solborg’s dreamy woodwind voicings carry pleasing echoes of Bill Frisell’s early forays into pastel-tinged Americana.

Very Merry / Folk breaks out into quasi march-time before dissolving into a gripping passage of free improvisation, and the sheer variety of tones and timbres is utterly breathtaking. The angular theme of the closing Prayers / Lysbringer presages some of the set’s most extrovert passages. The ensemble finally regroups amidst a chorus of taped voices, and as human and instrumental voices blend in perfect equilibrium, Solborg’s work is clearly done.

Interlude No. I; Talk #2: Choir / Ecoutez; Interlude No. II; Very Merry / Folk; Interlude No. III; Prayers / Lysbringer (51.58)
Solborg (elg, elec) with Susana Santos Silva (t, elec); Francesco Bigoni (cl, elec); Anders Banke (bcl, cl, f, elec); Simon Toldam (p, kyb, elec); Peter Bruun (d, pc, elec). Copenhagen, June 2022.
ILK Music ILK348