With The Zoo is Far (ECM, 2007), Norwegian pianist Christian Wallumrød introduced a group that expanded on the unique sonorities of his other, same-titled Christian Wallumrød Ensemble. That other Ensemblethe quartet responsible for A Year From Easter (ECM, 2005), and which gave an equally nuanced performance at Molde Jazz 2009explored the nexus of improvisation and composition, rooted in traditional Norwegian folk music, and Wallumrød's personal synchronism of contemporary and Baroque classicism. The six-piece Ensemble of The Zoo began a fundamental shift away from improvisation, a migration completed with Fabula Suite Lugano.
That's not to say Wallumrød's Ensemble is anything but interpretive, but more about subtle variation of phrasing, emphasis, and dynamics than in-the-moment melodic extrapolation. With the departure of trumpeter Arve Henriksen
leaving only Wallumrød and percussionist Per Oddvar Johansen remaining in both Ensembles, the sextet has become more fully independent. Trumpeter Eivind Lonning is youngeras is violinist/violist/Hardanger fiddler Gjermund Larsen, who replaces the quartet's more established Nils Okland in this group. Still, both are broad-minded players, approaching Wallumrød's musiclike The Zoo, largely miniatures, with only four of its eighteen tracks exceeding five minutes, and half of them less than threewith a rare combination of grace, majesty, and nuance matched by their band mates, cellist Tanja Orning and Baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi.
This may largely be music of somber quietude, but it's impossible to relegate it to the background; Fabula Suite Lugano commands attention, even when it's so tranquil as to almost necessitate leaning towards the speakers to hear it. Wallumrød's touch, capable of great strength on the majestic "Jumpa," yet almost painfully delicate on the spare, ethereal "Pling," which is as much an extension of Estonian composer (and ECM label-mate) Arvo Pärt's tintinnabulism as "Jumpa" is an extrapolation of the grander Baroque of J.S. Bach. But with Johanssen's instinctive percussion and the generally appealing combination of cello and harp, Wallumrød can still create a sense of disquiet...discomfort even, as relentless ascending lines interact with staggered pulses.
Equally, the music travels equally to gentle, folkloric landscapes on "Quote Funebre," a duet where Wallumrød's piano and Larsen's Hardanger fiddle orbit around each otherat times alone, other times in sublime concert. As ever with ECM, the sequencing of the songs is as important as the music itself, creating a larger arc as "Quote Funebre" leads seamlessly into the poignant majesty of "Scarlatti Sonata" (one of only four tracks not composed by Wallumrød), and then, just as harmoniously, into the oblique darkness of "Snake."
Wallumrød's music moves with like comfort in lyrical environs as it does abstruser territory of transient color and thematic ideation. The members of Christian Wallumrød Ensemble may possess the ears of the best, spontaneous jazz players; but in facing the demands of its leader's rigorous composition, they temper their interpretive approach without losing the delicate sense of surprise that makes Fabula Suite Lugano one of Wallumrød's best albums to date.
Track Listing: Solemn Mosquitoes; Pling; Drum; Jumpa; Dancing Deputies; Quote Funebre; Scarlatti Sonata; Snake; Knit; Duo; I Had A Mother Who Could Swim; Blop; The Gloom And The Best Man; Jumpa #2; Valse Dolcissima; Glissandro; Mosquito Curtain Call; Solo.
Personnel: Christian Wallumrød: piano, harmonium, toy piano; Eivind Lønning: trumpet; Gjermund Larsen: violin, hardanger fiddle, viola; Tanja Orning: cello; Giovanna Pessi: baroque harp; Per Oddvar Johansen: drums, percussion, glockenspiel.