Nils Bultmann – “Terminally Unique”

I like the aim of this album, and I like its relative simplicity. For “Terminally Unique,” Nils Bultmann constructs an independent track (partly from improvisation and partly in Pro Tools) for each line of a short poem. Bultmann, playing viola on the majority of songs, is joined by Roscoe Mitchell for a handful of tracks– most noteably on “the madness,” where he provides a dark saxophone bed for Bultmann’s viola and Parry Karp’s cello can become increasingly paranoid. Paddy Cassidy’s contribution to the track, his sole appearance on “Terminally Unique,” is a memorable djembe counterpoint with an unusual finish.

Bultmann seems willing to adapt new methods in order to conjure the appropriate mood, though the process can occasionally yield uneven results. “Marched Upward,” begins with a rather obvious martial flavor, and some heavy-handed keyboard technique. However, Bultmann’s introduction of Wurlitzer organ changes this track immensely. What was previously quite predictable quickly shifts into something more interestingly surreal, with dissonant held tones and fluttering arpeggio lines.

More exciting for me are Bultmann’s varied use of field recordings. “Again” makes fine use of a spinning coin, and “Reverently” fuses an indistinct sermon with Bultmann and Mitchell’s slow pas de deux on viola and flute. This all flows very well into “the pulsing,” an apt description of the tremolo effect employed here, as well as the general push-pull of one line into the next. In contrast, “Primal” is crude and blunt– it has a place, but thankfully not a focal one, in this album.

In all, “Terminally Unique” is a much more enjoyable album than I would have initially guessed. In truth, I don’t often feel that I connect well with program music, so I’m pleased to have found so many instances where that feeling subsided and I could just take it in. I would have liked to hear more in the way of extended techniques and greater use of field recordings throughout, with the caveat that they step too far from Bultmann’s evocative playing.

“Terminally Unique” is available as release 17530 on the Mutable Music label.

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