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Olga Konkova and Jens Thoresen: December Songs

Geno Thackara By

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It's a Christmas album even a Grinch can love. The title December Songs already hints that this affair is themed around the general season and mood rather than one particular holiday. The format (sparse piano/guitar duets) smoothly follows suit. The song selection includes a few of the same carols that always get overplayed at the end of every year, then mixes in some traditional pieces that won't be very familiar to many outside Scandinavia. In the best spirit of exploration, the duo then thoughtfully sculpts each one to the point where the classic chestnuts are barely recognizable.

Sure, there's a plentiful number of listeners who want the usual well-known carols to be easy to sing along with, and there's an even more plentiful excess of holiday music out there to fit that bill. December Songs is not for them. Olga Konkova and Jens Thoresen are more interested in finding interesting new shapes for whatever piece they tackle. They may begin with an established head to identify the piece, but then happily mutate it or drift away from it as soon as they can, always keeping their ears open so that they're drifting in tandem with each other.

Barring a light fleeting guitar echo through "Deilig er jorden/Fairest Lord Jesus" (which still makes a pleasant flavoring and doesn't clash with the mood at all), it's an easygoing dialogue without edits or artificial effects. Thoresen's electric tones are as sweet and smooth as his fretwork, beautifully suited to Konkova's always-graceful touch on the piano keys. In a recording that's all soft edges, of course their musical parts don't have to be sharply defined; either one can play with the rhythm or the lead melody. If it feels better to share the lead jointly as they go along, they both smile and go with it.

The contemplative candlelight vibe brings out lovely shades in ballads like "Glade jul/Silent Night" or an unusually soft "White Christmas," while their treatment of Mel Tormé's "The Christmas Song" just may be the least schmaltzy ever made. In these hands even the modern pop songs come out almost as eloquent as the traditional European hymns. It's fitting that the Losen label's first holiday-themed release is something so offbeat and exploratory. This is a recording most obviously geared towards jazz aficionados and those looking for a little holiday spirit, but most remarkably, open-eared listeners in neither camp can still find a whole lot to enjoy.

Track Listing: Du grønne glitrende tre; Deilig er jorden (Fairest Lord Jesus); Away In Manger; Det lyser i stille grender; Glade jul (Silent Night); Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas; Jeg er så glad hver julekveld; Jinglebells; The Christmas Song; En rose er utsprungen (Lo How A Rose E´er Blooming); White Christmas.

Personnel: Olga Konkova: piano; Jens Thoresen: guitar.

Title: December Songs | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Losen Records


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