ECM has always stretched the boundaries of jazz, and with its New Series
champions much adventurous classical music, most newly composed. Trio Mediaeval's latest release, Folk Songs
, an ethereal and haunting collection of Norwegian folk music, fits comfortably in neither.
The Trio's three previous albums for ECM, Words of the Angel
(2001), Soir, dit-elle
(2004) and Stella Maris
(2005), consisted of medieval polyphonic music surrounding contemporary compositions done a cappella
, and they received much acclaim, reaching the top of the Billboard and Amazon classical charts.
If you are familiar with the sound of, say, the Anonymous 4
, (a phenomenon unto themselves with a discography totaling twenty discs), then you are in the right ballparkcrystalline voices that blend seamlessly. The difference here is that on this release Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Torunn Østrem Ossum perform the third strand of their repertoire, Norwegian medieval ballads and songs.
The group is ten years old now and got its early training from the Hilliard Ensemble
, who have an extensive discography on ECM and who introduced the trio to Manfred Eicher of ECM. Folk Songs
is their first release in which Eicher was actively involved as producer; John Potter of the Hilliard Ensemble supervised the recording of the earlier releases.
The liner notes speak about the group's influences, especially the all-female vocal trio Tiriltunga, and Tone Krohn, who is active in collecting folk tunes from southern Norway and who has arranged many of the folk songs in the group's repertoire. However, on this release, Fuglseth arranges fully half of the tunes.
The performances have a verve and élan that creates a synergy with the pure beauty of the trio's voices, making this remote music sound personal. The addition of percussionist Birger Mistereggen, who plays jew's harp, rope-tensioned drums and additional instruments including something organ-like that is pitched ("Solbønn" and "Lova Line"), adds a further rhythmic drive, with the drumming creating a dramatic air on "Rolandskvadet.
None of the twenty tracks exceeds five minutes, allowing for many varied emotions and sounds, including one solo piece for each of the performers, allowing the subtle differences of each woman's voice to be discerned.
The texts (translations are included) are important in that their subjects and even the syllables mesh with the tune and the arrangement to create the whole. The singular sound of unaccompanied voices is given many variations by the vocal arrangements, which range from unisons, open fifths, seconds, voice crossings, high melody with low accompaniment and vice versa.
On the other hand, the music exists apart from language, and the many emotions presented are quite apparent. Their range is expansive and the experience is one of bathing in the pure silver and gold flowing out of the speakers. Playing Folk Songs
is like breathing fresh air while viewing a crystal clear sunrise or sunset.