Anders Jormin: Touching the Heart and Spirit

John Kelman By

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On the other hand, the one place where Eicher continues to exert his influence is with the sequencing of the compositions. "On both my own albums for ECM," Jormin says, "Manfred has had ideas. On Xeiyi he changed my suggestion of order, doing it in a totally new sequence, although on the new album, it has a certain order because it's a big composition. So there he agreed with me, but he could have had opinions and then most probably I would have accepted them, because I think he is very good at putting the tunes in the right order. I have seen that many times, on Bobo's recordings as well, it's always Manfred's order of tunes. I find that his sequencing of tunes is sometimes quite daring, he is never interested in putting some kind of hit tune as the first track. The first track might be very obscure; he trusts and requests from the listener to experience the record as a piece of art in itself."

In winds, in light

Jormin's new disk, In winds, in light , is an ambitious song-cycle that resulted from a commission to create new sacred music. "When I got the commission to write the piece," says Jormin, "it was not actually said that it should be a song cycle, it was just said that it should be a piece of new sacred music, to give new life to church music somehow; but I immediately felt that lyrics had to be a part of it. And I think, if I can remember, my choice fell very quickly with [singer] Lena Willemark, with whom I had collaborated on a few occasions.

"The commissioner actually had one suggestion," Jormin continues. "They happened to know and really like [pianist] Marilyn Crispell, and they suggested to me that she should play the church organ. So that was the only suggestion, but it turned out that Marilyn had never done it and she is always very concerned with doing a great job, so I came up with the idea of letting Marilyn play the piano, and I decided to use Karin Nelson, an experienced and highly appreciated organist. I found it quite inspiring to mix piano and organ; it's not done very much. So Lena was an early choice, and then for percussion I found Raymond Strid inside my head quite quickly. To me it's quite a logical combination, because somehow I could hear the sound of this music inside of me.

"It's a cycle with a certain order," concludes Jormin, "and there are improvised spots, but they are also quite structured, meaning I have written who is playing and in what style—I wrote, for example, a small fugue for the organist to improvise over. So it is quite a composed cycle, meaning that even though the improvisations are different, they are at the same time quite similar. The record gives a good picture of a live performance, but you lack, of course, the presence of seeing and hearing Lena sing, which is a fantastic experience actually."

Some of the most defining moments on the album come from Willemark's vocals. With Jormin's compositions, and lyrics that expound on the larger concept of spirituality in the firmament, Willemark proves herself to be an incredibly profound vocalist, sometimes caressing the lyrics, other times screaming them in almost existential pain.

"Those sounds and coughs," Jormin explains, "they are a part of her improvising technique, so I didn't have to give her direction, but those high things that she's screaming, extremely loudly, they're something that I both wrote and asked her to do. It's a traditional Swedish singing-in-the-forests technique; when you want the cows to come back, you do this. It's also used to send messages from one valley to another one, it's called kulning, and Lena is of a true folk music family, an upbringing from a remote part of Sweden, so when she does this it's for real. And it is so strong and penetrating that the microphones almost have to be turned off, or they get broken. You can't measure the decibel of that sound; we had to redo those parts of the composition a couple of times, having Lena walk yet another ten meters away from the microphone and yet another ten, in order to be able to record it; it's extremely loud and it's definitely not a concert singing technique, but it's part of her natural music and of course I wanted to use that."

While Eicher was originally meant to be there for the recording session, a broken leg prevented his traveling to Sweden and so, once again, Jormin was left with full artistic license. The album was originally meant to come from a live performance of the cycle but, unfortunately, events conspired against that happening. "The idea," Jormin says, "was to release, if not the very first performance, then the second performance. It was recorded, but church organs are very sensitive to humidity and temperature, and on that day the organ's tuning was very high, A was at 447, so the piano had to be tuned extremely high, which meant that on the last third of the concert the piano was out of tune. The recording of the cycle was a very good one, but we couldn't use it because the piano was so out of tune, so we had to rerecord it almost a year later."

Touring and Longevity

Jormin has done some shows in support of the release of In winds, in light , and hopes that the album will reach a broad audience. "I'm hoping for some recognition and, of course, good reviews," says Jormin, "and then we'll see what can be done in terms of touring. Of course we need special rooms; finding a room that has or can provide both a good piano and a good organ, that's a challenge. Another problem is that churches in Europe, in general, are a little too conservative to have concerts played, using the organ in this semi-secular kind of way, meaning that in many interesting rooms they do not want to have that kind of concert, while it is more liberal in Scandinavia; we can use churches as concert halls."

With the more project-oriented releases that Jormin has done, does he ever wish he had a more long-term, ongoing band? "I think the truth is," Jormin explains, "that my weak side is the organizing, gig-fixing side of things, meaning that many of my projects are the result of a commission. We do the commission concert, maybe one or two tours more, and then I simply don't have the time, energy and patience to sit down and organize myself. In Scandinavia, the system of concert agents doesn't really work. It's probably because it's so small, meaning there's not a lot of money for a concert agent unless we go down into Germany and south of that. No agents down in Europe have been that interested in selling my projects, because it's a little too difficult music or uses too many unknown Scandinavians, or whatever the reasons that they have had, and I haven't had the energy to go on myself. So after a project has been quite successful, a year passes and I go onto a new project and then that falls apart. I would really like to have a band, but being a composer, touring bassist and part time teacher, there is no time for me to hang on the telephone and do the business side."

Still, his ongoing relationship with Bobo Stenson provides Jormin with a longer-term project, although drummer Jon Christensen, who held the drum chair for many years, left a couple of years back. "Since Jon Christensen left the band for different reasons, we've had Paul Motian as the drummer for the trio. We've done a couple of tours but, for a variety of personal reasons, the trio hasn't worked very much for the last two years, since Paul became our drummer. Now the trio is back at work but Paul had a serious heart attack last year and has said that he'll never leave New York again. I don't know if he'll be able to persist with that. But we now have a new drummer, a very good young Swedish drummer. I actually wanted to record our new album with the new drummer, when we realized that Paul would no longer be touring with us, but Manfred felt that it should be Paul since that was the original idea for the recording, even though the recording had been postponed several times. The album was done in April of this year, and will probably be out around Christmas. That's a guess—it usually takes about a year from the recording to release for an ECM record, it's a very long time, sometimes longer. But Manfred is really happy with this record, he actually calls now and then just to say how much he loves it, so I have a feeling that the release date will be sped up a bit."

Heart and Spirit

While Jormin has enjoyed a strong reputation in Europe, and especially Scandinavia, for many years, now that his work is reaching a larger audience through ECM's international distribution, hopefully he'll make larger inroads elsewhere, in particular North America. While he has clearly forged some new directions for the double-bass, the reality is that he is far more than "just" a bassist; he is a consummate artist with a broad artistic vision that comfortably and seamlessly melds jazz, classical and Swedish folk music concerns into a deeply personal style. Jormin's albums may vary widely in terms of their instrumentation and concept, but constant is the drive to make music that challenges the mind while, at the same time, touching the heart and spirit.

Selected Discography

As a leader :
Nordic Lights (Dragon)
Eight Pieces (Dragon)
Alone (Dragon)
Jord (Dragon)
Once (Dragon)
Silvae (Dragon)
Xeiyi (ECM)
In winds, in light (ECM)

As a sideman with Bobo Stenson Trio :
Very Early (Dragon)
Reflections (ECM)
War Orphans (ECM)
Serenity (ECM)

As a sideman with Charles Lloyd :
Notes from Big Sur (ECM)
The Call (ECM)
All My Relations (ECM)
Canto (ECM)

As a sideman with Tomasz Stanko
Matka Joanna (ECM)
Leosia (ECM)
From the Green Hill (ECM)


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