Like fellow Norwegian and occasional collaborator Trygve Seim
, pianist Christian Wallumrød occupies a musical space where improvisation takes place within rigidly structured contexts. But while that is nothing particularly revolutionary in and of itself, the degree to which Wallumrød (and Seim) mesh the two potentially divergent philosophies is what distinguishes A Year from Easter
, his third release as a leader for ECM. Rather than subscribing to the more traditional jazz aesthetic of stating a theme and then opening a piece up for more extended soloing, Wallumrød integrates the two so carefully that the musicians in his ensemble must master the art of going from one to the other, often within the space of a single bar. The result is an approach that breathes with the freedom of jazz, yet lives within a more defined landscape.
A Year from Easter is Wallumrød's second release with this lineuptrumpeter Arve Henriksen, whose shakuhachi-like tone has become ubiquitous on the Norwegian scene with a rapidly growing body of work; Nils Økland, whose drone-stringed Hardanger fiddle, violin d'amore, and traditional violin explore the juncture between traditional folk music, new music, and improvised music, most notably on his recent Rune Grammofon solo release Bris; and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen, who should be no stranger to ECM fans familiar with Trygve Seim's two solo albums Different Rivers and Sangam, and has been a member of the cooperative group the Source, which released '02's The Source and Different Cikadas.
What differentiates this album from the ensemble's first release, '03's Sofienberg Variations, is that the majority of the material has been written by Wallumrød specifically for the group. Even more textural, and with Henriksen's trumpet melding at times almost seamlessly with Økland's assorted strings, it has an even greater sense of coherence and, more importantly, shared purpose than was evident on the ensemble's first record. It's no surprise that, despite everyone's busy schedules with a variety of projects, they have made this group a priority.
All the compositions are Wallumrød's, with the exception of three tracksthe rhythmic and harmonic stasis of the collective improvisation "Lichtblick," which may be the most vivid demonstration of the ensemble's penchant for colour over instrumental prowess; Økland's "Scetch," a solo piece that poignantly explores the nexus of improvisational, traditional, and new music concerns; and "Psalm," a traditional piece for solo piano that Wallumrød delivers with sombre austerity.
Perhaps reflective of the stark landscape of his native country, Wallumrød's writing is desolate and melancholy, containing thematic constructs that find Henriksen's trumpet and Økland's strings hovering over Wallumrød's dark chords and Johansen's percussion, which provides more delicate shade than forward motion. And yet, like Norway's rustic vistas, there's an inherent beauty to be found here as well. This album of understated power may be more apt to compel one towards deep personal reflection than a sense of community. More engendering of solitude yet somehow strangely compelling in its sense of isolation, A Year from Easter allows one to revel in the allure of darker spirits.