Bonita (Rune Grammofon)

Sidsel Endresen / Stian Westerhus

Released November 7, 2014

AllMusic Favorite Jazz Albums 2014



Sidsel Endresen and Stian Westerhus’ debut recording from 2012, Didymoi Dreams (RCD 2131CD), was awarded with a much-deserved Norwegian Grammy (Spellemannpris) and was applauded across the borders, with The Guardian concluding about its “power, originality and fearlessness” and the BBC calling it “an enthralling listen.” While Didymoi Dreams was a concert recording, Bonita is a live-in-the-studio recording, necessarily so because this is all improvised. Not that it’s easy to spot any major differences in that respect, anyone who have experienced this duo on stage can testify about their unique and telepathic musical dialogues, seemingly without the need to even look at each other. Whether on a stage or in a studio, their soundworld is magical, mysterious, beautiful and frightening, all underpinned by the evocative song titles. Sidsel Endresen is one of the leading vocal improvisers in the world and has worked as a professional singer and songwriter since the ’80s. In 1990 and 1994 she recorded two solo albums for ECM. The ’90s also saw a very fruitful collaboration with Bugge Wesseltoft, resulting in three albums and two more Grammys. Since 2000, she has done solo projects, written film music and collaborated further with international and Norwegian artists such as Helge Sten, Christian Wallumrød, Rolf Wallin, Jan Bang and Håkon Kornstad. She has toured all over the world, written music for several theater and dance perfomances and has been festival composer for the jazz festivals in Bergen and Molde. And these are only some of her credentials. Stian Westerhus is a musician challenging and stretching the limits of his instrument beyond the normal confines of the electric guitar, balancing raw expressiveness against virtuosity and melodic instinct. He has been called the hardest working (jazz) musician in Norway, always on the road, in the studio or working on yet another project. Lately his main priorities, aside from the duo with Sidsel Endresen, have been his solo career and his new “rock” group Pale Horses. A few years ago he also toured as a member of Nils Petter Molvær’s trio and did a commission work for Molde International Jazz Festival that included names like Maja Ratkje, Mats Gustafsson, Kjetil Møster, Ola Kvernberg and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra.

Track Listing:

1. Bonita 03:37

2. Ripper Silk 06:08

3. Baton 07:01

4. Boom Boom 02:32

5. Knuckle Tattoo 02:37

6. White Mantilla 08:57

7. The Pink Link 01:34

8. Solemn Vista 02:21

9. Blue Punch 03:50


Sidsel Endresen: voice

Stian Westerhus: guitars

Recorded August, 2014, at Oslo Klang

Produced and Mixed by Stian Westerhus

Recorded by Johnny Skalleberg

Mastered by Helge Sten

Design: Kim Hiorthøy


Didymoi Dreams, the initial recorded collaboration between veteran vocalist and composer Sidsel Endresen and guitarist Stian Westerhus, was cut live at a jazz festival in 2011 and released the following year. They’ve performed together since, but Bonita marks the duo’s first studio outing. Though the atmosphere is more controlled, the music isn’t. Engineer Johnny Kallenberg captured this in-the-moment performance at Studio Oslo Klang in a single session; Westerhus mixed it a month later. Perhaps the most immediately noticeable difference is in Westerhus’ playing. Given the experience he’s had with his rock group Pale Horses, his approach in meeting Endresen’s signature, boundless sense of improvisational adventure is more aggressive. He uses more tones, more effects; he goes at the spaces rather than hanging inside them — check the rowdy “Baton” for evidence. This is as it should be; he is not support for Endresen, but the other voice in this balanced presentation. Like her, he too is a “singer,” though it’s through his playing. Together they create resonance in whispers and echoes, surges, retreats, and the wonder of empty space. On “Boom Boom,” a tender, painterly ballad, they seem to emerge from these silent corners with a shared tenderness of expression. The moody yet disturbingly gorgeous “Knuckle Tattoo” offers lyricism and dynamic tension rooted in emotional darkness and implied violence. The elliptically lyrical “Solemn Vista” is more fluid, generous in its sonances and textures. But these softer tracks are balanced by the rumble, amble, and zig-zag as found in the wildly abstract Ripper Silk,” where growls, stutters, moans, and scrapes are asserted, answered, strung together, and pulled apart. Likewise, “Wild Mantilla” creates a fragmented yet purposeful cadence, dissembled time structure, and lyric architecture of its own. It’s in the moment to be sure, but there is no excess, everything is focused on spark-into-flame concentration. Closer “Blue Punch” centers on a single, fractured guitar riff, distorted and mangled yet repetitive and hypnotic. Endresen grabs onto it, mimics it, then departs, forcing Westerhus to meet her slurry glossolalia with quaking attentiveness. As electrifying and bracing as Didymoi Dreams was, Bonita is even more so. The intimacy factor at work here is such that the pair are undistracted by other, outside influences. They surround, wind through, and soar above, below, and through each other egolessly and instinctually. Bonita is more assured, yet riskier and perhaps even braver than its predecessor. While that opinion is subjective, the album is a must for anyone interested in 21st century improvised music.

Thom Jurek (AllMusic)