When the bonus track on an album is the most adventurous piece, you know there might be trouble. And that's not to say that bassist Lars Danielsson's latest album, Libera Me , is bad; it isn't. In a year where we've seen other artists mesh jazz improvisation with an orchestra, most notably pianist Steve Kuhn with Promises Kept (ECM) and Charlie Mariano with Not Quite a Ballad (Intuition), it has come to pass that these two disparate conceptsthe obvious demand for strict structure for the orchestra with the more extemporaneous demands of jazzcan work, and work quite well. But while Danielsson is a fine bassist with a robust sound and strongly lyrical bent, his concept for placing himself in the midst of a lush orchestra straddles the fence between the dramatic and the melodramatic, the sweet and the saccharine, occasionally slipping onto the wrong side.
With guests including Norwegians Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet, Jon Christensen on drums, and Jan Bang on samples, along with saxophonist David Liebman, the ingredients are all there for a fine recording. And some tracks work better than others. The opening track, "Asta," melds abstraction with a more direct melodicism. "Suffering" brings to mind some of the orchestral work on guitarist Pat Metheny's Secret Story , and Danielsson's folk-like bass melody is attractive in a melancholy way. But other tracks, including the title track and "Cornelia," as rich and beautiful as they are, tend to blend together into something more monotonous.
The best tracks on the record are those where Danielsson is left alone with Christensen. "The Teacher" is a folksy piece that features Christensen at his elastic best, and Danielsson's reading of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" is equally vivid. These two tracks prove, in fact, that less is definitely more, as they allow Danielsson and Christensen to speak volumes within a simpler context.
And the bonus track, "Asnah," demonstrates what this record could have been had the orchestra been used either more sparingly. Starting with simple drums and percussion supporting Danielsson's searching cello; Bang's samples gradually and subtly enter, as does Caecilie Norby's voice, more effective here than on the syrupy easy-listening vocal track "Newborn Broken." Molvaer, using a more pure organic tone than on his own recordings, is equally adept at developing the more ambient soundscape of the track. And the orchestra is back in the mix, creating a simple but lush backdrop that is more about texture and landscape.
This SACD hybrid recording was beautifully crafted at Oslo's Rainbow Studio with engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug, home and technician behind so many classic ECM recordings. While Libera Me is unquestionably a well-crafted album for those who want to simply sit back and be enveloped by something that doesn't confront or challenge, it is in the odd man out tracks"The Teacher," "Both Sides Now," and especially "Asnah"where we hear what this album could have been and, perhaps, should have been. Hopefully they are harbingers of what Danielsson has in store next time around.
Asta; Suffering; The Teacher; Newborn Broken; Libera Me; Shimmering; Granada; Both Sides Now; Forever You; Bird Through the Wall; Cornelia; Asnah (bonus).
Lars Danielsson (acoustic bass, cello, piano, guitar), Jon Christensen (drums, percussion), Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet), Xavier Desandre Navarre (percussion), David Liebman (soprano saxophone), Anders KJellberg (cymbals), Jan Bang (samples), Carsten Dahl (piano), Tobias Sjogren (guitar), DR Danish Radio Concert Orchestra, conducted by Frans Rasmussen Special guest: Caecilie Norby (vocals on "Newborn Broken") On "Asnah" only: Lars Danielsson (cello, samples), Jon Christensen (drums), Nils Petter Movlaer (trumpet), Caecilie Norby (voices), Jan Bang (samples), Xavier Desandre Navarre (percussion), DR Danish Radio Concert Orchestra.
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