In her debut recording with the large Norwegian ensemble Torg on Kost/Elak/Gnäll (Jazzland Recordings, 2015), the playing of saxophonist Mette Henriette Martedatter Rølvåg may well have been lost in the pack. That Bugge Wesseltoft produced album was an unrestrained mashup of genres, styles and techniques in an octet that didn't easily lend itself to individual performance analysis. Not surprisingly, it was ECM's Manfred Eicher who recognized Rølvåg's extraordinary talent and paved the the way to this two-disc, self-titled leader debut.
The young composeronly in her mid-twentieshas already worked with Tim Berne, Jim Black, Michael Formanek, Tom Rainey, Sidsel Endresen and Christian Wallumrod. On Mette Henriette Rølvåg works with her trio of pianist Johan Lindvall and cellist Katrine Schiøtt on the first disc. The second disc features her thirteen member ensemble including trumpeter Eivind Lønning and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen, both of whom have recorded with Wallumrød as well as members of the Cikada Quartet.
There are thirty-five mostly compact compositions between the two discs with all but three (those written by Lindvall) being credited to Rølvåg. Much of the trio disc is intricately structured and conveys a sense of vulnerability. The three opening pieces "So," ."oOo."and "The Taboo" are quite minimal and is not before Schiøtt's extended cello technique on "But Careful" that we are nudged to closer attention. Rølvåg does not push her own playing to the forefront, leaving much of that role to Lindvall. If fact, it is not until Linvall's composition "3-4-5" (nine tracks along) that Rølvåg takes center stage. When she does, it is soulful and inspiring. The trio takes on some lightly experimental soundscapes, especially on "A Void" and "In Circle" but here too, the music is appealing and accessible.
The second disc gives little impression of a larger ensemble at the outset. "Passé" again with Lindvall on piano and features he and Rølvåg in a beautiful melancholy creation. The strings almost inperceptively work their way in as the piece develops. Again, Rølvåg pulls back to give the strings "Pearl Rafter" and "Veils Ever After." Lønning's trumpet and Henrik Nørstebø's trombone shine on the regal "Unfold," albeit, for all of its forty seconds. "Wildheart"true to the nameerupts with Rølvåg's growling sax and a brass improvisation all in contrast to the largely meditative tone of the album.
About twenty tracks in we get a sense of that Rølvåg has been working toward building from disparate themes and segments. The edginess of "Late à la carte" gives way to a classically inspired "So It Is" and that, in turn to a very experimental "?." By the time we get to the beautiful "But We Did" it becomes clear how Rølvåg is integrating her many ideas onto broader palettes. The longest track on Mette Henriette, "I," begins in tranquility, explodes in improvisation and then returns to quiet. Many of the tracks on the album are brief splashes of tonal color not to develop fully but to provide flavor. Five tracks are less than a minute in length and few go beyond five minutes. The lack of a drummer in the trio formation gives the music a quality of lightness even while the overall atmosphere skews dark.
The compositions rendered by the two formations are perfectly compatible with each other and there is a natural flow from trio to ensemble. Rølvåg's compositions are geared toward the musicianship of the overall group rather than providing a showcase for her own considerable skills as a musician and there is little to suggest that the composer is heavily influence by outside forces. Mette Henriette is original and unique and should generate much anticipation around Rølvåg's future projects.
Disc 1: So; .oOo.; The Taboo; All Ears; But Careful; Beneath You; Once; We Were To; 3-4-5; Hi Dive; A Void; The Lost One; In Circles; I Do; O. Disc 2: Passé; Pearl Rafter; Veils Ever After; Unfold; Wildheart; Strangers By Midday; Late à la carte; So It Is; ?; True; This Will Pass Too; But We Did; I; Breathe; Off The Beat; Wind On Rocks; Bare Blacker Rum; & The Silver Fox; Behold; Better Unheard [Yet To Be Hold].
Mette Henriette Martedatter Rølvåg: saxophone; Eivind Lønning: trumpet; Henrik Nørstebø: trombone; Andreas Rokseth: bandoneon; Johan Lindvall: piano; Sara Övinge: violin; Karin Hellqvist: violin; Odd Hannisdal: violin; Bendik Bjørnstad Foss: viola; Ingvild Nesdal Sandnes: violoncello; Katrine Schiøtt: violoncello; Per Zanussi: double bass; Per Oddvar Johansen: drums, saw.
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