Nils Bultmann plays a mean viola, handles keyboards well enough and improvises with vocals and breath for good measure. He has collaborated with people of the calibre of Evan Parker, Frank Gratkowski, Myra Melford and – also present in four track of this CD – Roscoe Mitchell, and is a component of the Transatlantic Art Ensemble. Despite the eminent past partnerships, Terminally Unique represents my first run into this artist’s music, a satisfying one. Besides Mitchell, helpers on this release include Parry Karp (cello) and Paddy Cassidy (djembe).
The album was shaped, with the aid of Pro Tools, by editing the most significant parts of a massive series of studio takes collected and gathered over the years, which comprise (in their creator’s words) “improvisations, compositional sketches and field recordings”. There are two or three distinct flavours that instantly materialize while listening to the results. The impressive technical ability of Bultmann on the main instrument is reinforced by the marvellously evocative Eastern quality of his phrasing, sliding lines and introspective melodic intuitions corroborated by an almost tragic atmosphere of contemplative ineluctability, often turning into veritable anguish (listen to the bloodcurdling screaming accompanying the notes in the initial section of “Brutally Adored”). As he decides to let the environment join the vibe, the viola becomes just another colour in a landscape that doesn’t promise a future of beatification, regardless of the apparent peacefulness (“Ocean”).
In general, what transpires is the aspiration of avoiding definite labels, the articulate structure of the playing notwithstanding. Every piece clearly shows its distinctive nature, characterized by accents of interior research that sound nearly memorable at times, of the more ordinary kind elsewhere, where the harmonic edifice is built somewhat unsurprisingly (certain Wurlitzer-based two-chord progressions come to mind). Classiness tends to prevail even in those circumstances, though. A pleasant record enriched by a couple of outstanding duets, and which transmits an explicit feel of coordinated autonomy.