Many people can enjoy a $500 bottle of wine, but few can properly appreciate it. A similar concept applies to a new album by the Norwegian BNB trio fusing jazz, neo-classical, and ethnic folk so smoothly many listeners will simply enjoy it without realizing its improvisation-heavy complexity.
Ein Song Frå Dei Utsungne Stunder is a vocal/fiddle/bass collaboration that on one level is a low-key set of traditional and contemporary acoustic ethnic folk. On another, however, it's a series of intense interactions that come together so well as to seem composed, with instrument and/or vocal battles whose intensity is masked by subtlety.
Berit Opheim's vocals are mostly in an alto-soprano register with a fair amount of range, but even on larger pitch jumps they almost always have a sense of lyricism and harmony. If she's improvising, it's in a sense of meditation and storytelling, rather than scatting and showboating.
The album opens with the three-part "Lite Langre In," with Opheim's Norwegian lyrics getting a touch of bass support from Bjørn Kjellemyr. Nils Økland enters on fiddle halfway through, offering mostly a series of high-pitch textures. His range drops and the interaction between the trio gets into full swing on the second movement as Opheim increases the range of both her pitch and volume, while the instruments get subtly feisty behind hersort of like children in the rear seat fidgeting after being told to keep still. The final movement steps back in a wistful folk-tale way at the beginning before dabbling in a bit of thumping neo-classical toward the end.
The instrumentalists are never in danger of being lost, but it's nice to hear them several times without vocals, as on "Paulista." Both play minimal phrases throughout, mostly separately, very much offering the feeling of a conversation or story at work. "Galgea" is a fine chamber battle/collaboration (depending on your viewpoint), although its generally low-pitch may cause it to sail by listeners keyed in on the cutting tones featured much of the time elsewhere.
Much of the album has a somber quality, but there's an element of playful drama on "(Frekki) Dvale" as Opheim's vocals get some slap-bass and quick-hit fiddle backing from her colleagues. "Sang Pa Elva" and "Et Segl Glir Bort" end the album on a soothing, lullaby-like note.
If there's Ein Song has a weakness, it's the subtle and even nature of the songs, which keeps one from feeling true breakthrough moments. It's easy enough to listen to this disc multiple times searching for that intangible element of a true classic, but a letdown to come away feeling like it isn't there.
Still, if this isn't quite that $500 bottle of wine, it's more than fair to put it in that $50-$100 range most people order on a special night out. Connoisseurs of such music may have better albums or find faults in this one more easily, but general listeners looking for something capturing the understated nature of Scandinavian jazz in a modern vocal setting will find this an excellent choice.
Track Listing: Lite Langre In (Pt. 1); Lite Langre In (Pt. 2); Lite Langre In (Pt. 3); Paulista; (Frekki) Dvale;
Dan Fagraste Viso Pao Jorae; Et Minne Dypt; Erindring; Ser Du Eit Hjarte Langs Vinden;
Galgea; Fivreld; Runarvisa; Fantasea; Sang Pa Elva; Et Segl Glir Bort
Personnel: Berit Opheim, vocals; Nils Økland, fiddle, hardanger fiddle; Bjørn Kjellemyr, double bass