The new French label Laaps emanates from the soul of now-defunct Eilean Records. This is the afterlife. Described as a ‘permanent continuity in sounds and visuals, with some bridges between albums’, Laaps is a new entity. Connected to each of the four seasons, the main concept behind the project is one of connection: the music will, in turn, connect the four seasons, and each album’s starting point will have traces of its earlier predecessor, tainting the music with the spectre of a past-life; every ending coloured by continuity, renewal, and resumption.
The Alvaret Ensemble – Greg Haines (piano), Romke Kleefstra (guitar, bass, effects), and Sytze Pruiksma (percussion) – have the honour of opening up the label with Ea, a wintry double album. Six years on from their last release, Ea is a quiet, brooding tale. Slowly sinking in while laying down deep and solid roots, it makes for a perfect introduction to what will be a mammoth series. Ea was recorded over three nights in a small church in the Netherlands. The ensemble invited other musicians to join them, as they did on their first two albums (both their self-titled debut and Skeylia, released in 2012 and 2014 respectively). But this time, Polish violinist Olga Wojciechowska and Portuguese cellist Joana Guerra join the impressive cast. A focus on improvisation – coupled with the calmer, downtime atmosphere of night and the acoustics of the church – shapes something special. Hours were spent in post-production, where sounds were meticulously chosen and fine-tuned. Release dates were postponed until they were fully satisfied with the music, rejecting hours of material in the process.
Dank strings and a sparse, lone voice create a haunting and somewhat melancholic mood. Quivering, disembodied strings are left to float in the air, thanks to the ensemble’s focus on improvisation, and their music is all the more potent without any definite form. One can imagine the contours of its countryside, not exactly bleak, but darker than the norm, its stark skeleton-branches draped in a cloying fog. Ea shivers and shakes in a sub-zero temperature. At the same time, it frosts over with elements of dark jazz.
Improvisation loosens the music, allowing jazzier elements to step in through a half-opened door. And although its improvised nature opens the music up, it still hides from the world, and its tender heart hibernates. The poetry is a white cloud of cold air, exhalations at regular – but slower – intervals. A thoughtfulness settles in like a spell of obdurate weather, and nothing can shift it. But it also highlights the calm of the season, the deadening, sleeping, and resting of all things. Ea is left in a quiet place, deep in the woods, a record of understated, careful beauty and introspection.