Kjell-Erik Arnesen and Jrgen Larsen, Calls (2L, 2004)
Frydis Ree Wekre, Ceros (2L, 2005)

Both of these albums are horn-based. The horn is much less popular, it seems, than its cousins in the brass family. Most jazz bands have saxophone, trombone, and trumpet sections (in order of decreasing size), but no horns. I haven't heard much where the horn was the primary instrument before now (nor as the only brass instrument), but two talented horn players demonstrate its versatility on these albums.

I enjoyed Calls. Though there was only one horn and one piano, the album never felt sparse instrumentally. I would call the pieces throughout duets more than anything. Both instruments have strengths as solo instruments. The horn has a full and distinctive timbre even played alone, while the piano is versatile enough to play a full arrangement by itself. They're used together here very effectively: the piano sometimes taking the lead with more intricate playing while the horn lends its sweet tone and power for a fuller sound, accentuating the piano; or the horn playing the lead melody while the piano plays a softer accompaniment.

This is lovely classical/chamber/ambient music. Sometimes powerful, but mostly serene and soothing. Either instrument is capable of either great power or infinite gentleness, and the dynamic as roles are switched -- the instruments sometimes in sync, and sometimes opposite but complementary to each other -- is consistently fresh and interesting. Relaxing, but never boring.

In Ceros, Wekre is joined by two other horn players, as well as piano on about half the tracks, and a violin as well, for a trio of trios with all three instruments. It's interesting to hear this unusual combination of instruments in a trio piece. While I had gotten used to the horn/piano combo after listening to one and a half albums of it, and did not feel anything was lacking, the addition of strings set those tracks apart.

This album has much the same mellow feel of the first, and they go well together. If you enjoy this type of music, and you're looking for something to chill with, these albums both serve that purpose, while offering a particular sort of sound you don't hear very often. While none of the pieces are really melancholy, most are of a somewhat wistful, bittersweet variety, which I mostly enjoy, though it sometimes leads to their being less accessible or engaging.

Both albums are, at times, very beautiful and absorbing, but they largely serve to set a certain tone. I consider them as ambient pieces, for use to set myself in a certain frame of mind. They do this well. If you were hoping for something along the lines of Ride of the Valkyries, however, you should look elsewhere.

[J.J.S. Boyce]