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Olga Konkova & Jens Thoresen: December Songs

Mark Sullivan By

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December Songs is a sly title for an album of mostly Christmas music, but it suits the subtle approach taken by the Norwegian duo of pianist Olga Konkova and guitarist Jens Thoresen. The arrangements consistently find fresh approaches to very familiar music, transforming the tunes into something elusive and beautiful. Add in the improvisational element, and the result is an openness rare in holiday music. This is music first: the holiday theme is an organizing principle, not the whole reason for the project.

The pair take many different roles over the course of the album. For the traditional hymn "Deilig er jorden (Fairest Lord Jesus)" Thorsen plays accompaniment throughout, using an ostinato pattern with echo, leaving Konkova to muse on the theme. On "Glade jul (Silent Night)" a lyrical guitar solo erupts after the theme, then the piano re-harmonizes the tune to end the track. Thoresen begins "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" solo, first improvising on the chord changes, then introducing the melody; when Konkova's piano enters she plays the entire tune, but still freely. "Jinglebells" takes yet another approach, featuring rolling piano arpeggios while the guitar plays melodic fragments in the low register. The most radical re-harmonization is reserved for the closer "White Christmas" It has a tonally ambiguous sound, almost bi-tonal: as if the guitar and piano are playing in different keys.

Russian-born, Konkova moved to Oslo in 1994. Among her many projects is membership in the big band Ensemble Denada, where she plays with Thoresen. Thoresen is an active freelancer who composes for TV, film, radio and theater. He works in pop and rock in addition to jazz, and is also responsible for recording, mixing and mastering this beautiful sounding album. This may be their first time recording as a duo, but their musical compatibility is deep.

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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