Olivier Ker Ourio—Harmonica
Music festivals bring musicians from all over the world together, and wonderful projects evolve from these meetings. When harmonica virtuoso Olivier Ker Ourio (France) met electric guitarist Bruce Arnold (USA) at an international jazz festival in Monterrey Mexico they both felt a strong musical kinship. Olivier visited the USA a few months later, and he and Bruce took time to create a CD’s worth of duets based on Bruce’s compositions simply entitled “Duets” (MSK 122).
A transformation occurs when any piece of music originally arranged for several instruments is condensed into the duet form. In this case, the sweet and wistful timbre of Olivier’s harmonica lends a warm familiarity to even the most angular of Arnold’s compositions. Arnold, who is known for his fiery excursions into the land of twelve-tone soloing is content to be the bedrock here, holding down harmony and grooves while Ker Ourio swoops and glides with the melodies.
Olivier Ker Ourio is one of France’s greatest jazz harmonica players. He has recorded and toured with France’s top jazz musicians, and created his own CDs to great critical acclaim. But his is a divided nationality–born in France but raised on the island of Reunion, he has returned again and again to this place that was his formative home. His CD “Sominnkér” was a collaboration with Daniel Waro, the island’s great maloya vocalist and was immediately recognized as an important cross-cultural work. He continually tours and records for CDs, television, films, and to appear on radio and television programs in France.
Bruce Arnold has been working with twelve-tone music for the past ten years persistently refining and developing its application to modern jazz composition and improvisation. The LA Times said “Arnold deserves credit for his effort to expand the jazz palette” and his three CDs (“Blue Eleven” “A Few Dozen” and “Give ‘Em Some”) have all received universal praise from both jazz and classical circles. He teaches at Princeton University and is currently the Director of NYU’s Summer Jazz Guitar Program. He has written over forty books of music instruction.
To hear or purchase music from this CD please visit the Duets page at the record company Muse Eek Recordings.
“Jazz guitarist and composer Bruce Arnold teaches at Princeton University and stubbornly experiments with music matter which was found almost hopeless to deal with in the times of the so called “third stream” of the 50s. Mr. Arnold’s experiments which combine contemporary classical methods – 12-tone system, Hildegarde von Bingen, Indian shamen were unexpectedly well recieved even by a rather conservative Down Beat. Now the guitarist made a step towards the masses by recording 11 “studies” in the form of duos with the well known here in Russia harmonica player Olivier Ker Ouirio. Imagine contemporary music, say, of Berg or Schnitke, played as if they were street blues.”
“Moody jazz and blues from the modern mainstream allow this duo to explore currents that emphasize melody and harmony over rhythm. Together, Bruce Arnold and Olivier Ker Ourio weave intricate patterns of sound on Duets that belie a melancholy refrain into which emotions fall loosely and untangled.
Their aim is perfectly clear: to paint languorous pictures where a soul can rest alongside ocean waves of sensuous music. Ker Ourio’s harmonica wafts on an easygoing breeze, rising and falling with the heartbeat. His full, rich tone fills the air like clouds of sulfur. Breathing in and out naturally, he brings us a relaxed session that’s filled with emotion.
Bruce Arnold provides the compositions on Duets. He favors twelve-tone ideology in pensive settings. This gives the duo a lush bed into which his guitar gracefully settles. “Spurge” and “Spurge Jam” push with a light spirit. Both pieces allow the two artists to lift the session’s pace a little. The remainder of the program rests casually in a pensive mood that evokes sadness and moody reflection.
The beauty of these duets lies in the interaction between Arnold’s guitar and Ker Ourio’s harmonica. A cohesive and wholesome collaboration, Duets is meant to be admired from a close distance when time allows for a restful celebration of the arts.”
—Jim Santella, ALL ABOUT JAZZ
“I have no doubt that when some of you find out this is an album of duets by an electric (jazz) guitarist and a harmonica player, you’ll stop reading right away. Boy, will that be your loss! Bruce Arnold (guitar) and Olivier Ker Ourio (harmonica) display a unique and synergistic musical vision on this remarkable recording which would have sky-rocketed into my top ten of last year had I listened to it earlier. What an amazing sound these two produce! Whether pirouetting around one another playing the same melody with subtle shades of difference, or trading moments in the solo spotlight while the other adds background textures and accompaniment, Arnold and Ker Ourio are two performers with a grasp of nuance and technique that shines through everywhere on this exceptional CD.
Tracks vary in length from the ultra-short “Spuge Jam” (at 1:51) to “Release” at 5:18, and the mood also swings from the upbeat “Spurge” which swings and sways with delightful abandon to the airy and spacious “A Day In The Badlands” on which Ker Ourio’s plaintive harmonica paints a musical image of the vast and haunting landscape while Arnold’s muted guitar provides a moody backdrop. A track like the latter could almost be categorized as ambient harmonica! Trust me, you have never heard anything like this music. Yes, it has elements of jazz and fusion in it, but it also can be sparse and minimal and in that way can hold its own with good ambient music, much like another similar jazz duet recording, Beyond the Missouri Sky (Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden) does.
Which is not to say that each artist can’t step out and display some pyrotechnics on his instrument, although they tend to be slow-burners and not light-up-the sky variety. “Blue Lotus” opens with some deft picking from Arnold, navigating the strings with uncommon dexterity before Ker Ourio’s harmonica imparts a shade of blue on the proceedings. However, neither artist ever takes over a song completely, throwing the other one into complete shadow. Instead, they take turns carrying the load of the emotional weight of the compositions. “Reflection” first draws its pensive nature from Arnold’s low key playing and then Ker Ourio takes over the reins, blowing a slow sensual tune that sways ever so gently but also somewhat mournfully.
One of the album highlights (especially on headphones) is when the two players nimbly intertwine their instruments playing the same notes, with just enough free-wheeling and improvisation that the commonality and the separation come across as natural and unforced. The track “Consistancy” is a good example of this symmetry.
Whether the subtle driving energy of “Release” or the minimal and somber “Endless Reflection” Duets is a wonderful recording to immerse oneself in, or you can simply play this late at night when its mellow vibe (I mean, can you beat a harmonica and jazz guitar for imparting a violet-shaded glow to a room?) will unfold lazily into the environment like a warm sensation flowing into your tired body. Kudos to Arnold (who also wrote all the music!) and Ker Ourio for creating such a subtly complex yet incredibly accessible recording. As I wrote above, Duets is one of the best albums of 2004 and I only regret not discovering it soon enough to place it on my top ten list. I can still give it my highest recommendation, though. Open-minded ambient fans who hunger for something different (provided they have the barest minimum of affection for jazz) would be well-advised to check it out. Minimalist jazz fans are, of course, enthusiastically encouraged to glom onto this CD, pronto!”
—Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire
“It’s always a pleasure to receive CDs from totally unknown labels and even more unknown artists. Will it be a big surprise, something completely new and overwhelming, yes or no? On such moments, depending on the quality of the music, I often realize how many good musicians are around all over the world, and I feel dissatisfied because I’lI never be able to know and appreciate them all. This happened when two CD’s from the label Muse Eek fell on the doormat, one by Spooky Actions, another by the duo Arnold and Keir Ourio. Let me reveal first a little from the background of the musicians involved here. Spooky Actions is a quartet: John Gunter (flute, saxophone, clarinet), Bruce Arnold (processed electric guitar), Peter Herbert (bass) and Tony Moreno (drums, percussion). They did their best in interpreting two compositions of Anton Webern, “5 Movements for string quartet opus 5” and “5 Canons”. They play each movement and canon first note by note, followed by a compact improvisation inspired on it.
Of course we know of composers like Stravinsky and Milhaud who tried to integrate jazz influences in their compositions. More rare are the examples the other way around. I know of a CD by the Keith Yaun Quartet Amen adapting works by Oliver Messiaen for improvisation. But jazz musicians who play compositions of the Schönberg twelve-tone method…? But if you listen to Spooky Actions, you ask yourself why this was not done earlier. Because it sounds very interesting and natural in the treatment Spooky Actions. This may be explained by the fact that Arnold studies already some ten years on the application of twelve-tone music to modern jazz.
Arnold teaches Princeton University and wrote over 50 instruction texts on guitar technique. As a guitarplayer he played with people like Joe Pass, Randy Brecker and Joe Lovano, not exactly the avant garde section of jazz music. Together with John Gunther, Arnold started improvising on classical music in 1997. This duo became a quartet and there improvisations on Webern is their first release as Spooky Actions. Listening to this CD I imagined Doctor Nerve playing Webern from an rock angle. This may illustrate that Spooky Actions are successful in transforming the work of Webern into a more down to earth version. Some very enjoyable 27 minutes!
Totally different is the collaboration between Arnold and Olivier Keir Ourio. They met on an international jazz festival in Monterry and decided to work together, because they both felt a strong musical kinship. Oliver Keir Ourio is a harmonica-player from France, raised on the island of Reunion. Arnold is responsible for the guitar and the compositions. No twelve-tone compositions, but very accessible works, almost Toots Thielemans-like easy listening jazz. Nice harmonic and melodic structures and tunes. Not overdone with sentiment, and no overacting. A music that brings peace to your mind.”