Silent Fires is a quartet which brings together Italian pianist and composer Alessandro Sgobbio with three renowned Norwegians, violinist Håkon Aase, vocalist Karoline Wallace and trumpeter Hilde Marie Holsenwhose one-woman album Lazuli (Hubro, 2018) was very well received. As the YouTube clip below shows, in concert the four are often joined onstage by contemporary dancer and real-time choreographer Synne Garvik. While the four musicians are all experienced improvisers, their debut album Forests is not freely improvised but consists of eleven compositions by Sgobbio, with lyrics from diverse sources including Sgobbio himself, Maya Angelou, W. B. Yeats, René Guénon, and religious texts including Psalms, and the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians. Apparently, the lyrics investigate the theme of "spirituality," although that is not always immediately obvious, considering the range of meanings attached to the word. Given the range of sources and literary styles, it is certainly not easy to identify a unifying theme running through the lyrics. (Maybe the album would have benefitted from the lyrics being printed on its sleeve?) The songs are all sung or, sometimes, recited by Wallace, in a very appealing, crystal-clear voice which is perfectly suited to conveying a wide range of emotions. The accompaniment from piano, violin, trumpet and subtle percussion is never overstated or attention-grabbing, instead remaining supportive and complementary to the voice. Throughout, Aase's violin is a highlight, which fits in perfectly with the voice and mood, most notably on the track which sits at the heart of the album and shares its name with the band itself. Forests is one of those albums which is not instantly appealing but gradually reveals its strengths with repeated listening, ultimately being quite compelling and addictive. As a debut album, it is first rate and full of promise for the future. On this evidence, Silent Fires' second album will be well worth checking out.
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