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Ellen Bødtker / Jan Erik Vold: Sommeren Der Ute

Jakob Baekgaard By

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A poem called "Hokusai, The Old Master," by the Norwegian poet Jan Erik Vold, tells about the understanding of art and life as a process that deepens with old age: "so when I turn 100 / I shall produce / praiseworthy things."

Even though Vold has not turned 100 yet, he has reached what you might call the age of maturity and true to the wisdom of the poem, he has created one of his greatest works yet: the album Sommeren Der Ute. He has done so in intimate collaboration with the harpist Ellen Bødtker, percussionist Eirik Raude and trumpeter Arve Henriksen, who has also produced the album.

Vold has a long history of setting his poems into music and his characteristic hovering voice is known throughout Norway. He is also famous for his collaboration with the iconic jazz trumpeter, Chet Baker, and it makes sense that he returns to the instrument, this time in the shape of Arve Henriksen's beautiful brass voice. Henriksen is closer to Vold's own Scandinavian roots and his project of capturing a world of natural sounds fits perfectly with the aesthetic of the album.

Ellen Bødtker was the one who initiated the idea for the album and in the liner notes, she writes about the clear connection that she sees between the musical world that the harp is able to conjure, Vold's poetry and the Japanese landscape they experienced when they toured the country in 2013.

The unusual combination of poetic recitation, harp, trumpet, percussion and subtle electronics is the key to understanding the mood of the album. The oriental timbre of Bødtker's instrument meets the Nordic windy whisper of Henriksen's trumpet and Raude's percussion binds it all together with a pulse that flows gently. Vold's voice is an instrument itself. He uses pauses to great effect and stretches his vocal without straining it. It is all about being in the moment, like in this little haiku: "the drop / hangs there / no more." The difference between presence and disappearance is only a matter of a break in the line, articulated poignantly through the poet's voice. Like the drop of water, we are here and then we are not.

An existential narrative runs through the album. It uses water, stones, wind and snow as recurrent motifs, placing us as humans in the middle of a natural world in constant change, but changes are not always bad. A sky of sorrow can turn into the bright sun of life, as it does in the poem "Dipping Our Toes."

Through it all, poetry, music and natural landscape become one. The album is a rare example of organic integration of music and poetry. It is not music AND poetry, but musical poetry and poetry that dares to get to the core of human existence without a trace of distance or irony. Non-Scandinavian listeners might be a little estranged by Vold's foreign voice, but the English translation of the poetry, done by the poet himself, makes it possible to get the full experience of the beauty in words and music.

Those enamored with Vold might move on to the box set Jan Erik Vold: The Complete Recordings 1966-1977 (Plastic Strip Press, 2009), which collects some of his most important recordings, but the wonderful thing about Sommeren Der Ute is that it distills everything that is great about Jan Erik Vold in one single album.

Track Listing: Hvitt hav / White Ocean; Stille Hav / Quiet Ocean; Sommeren der ute / Once upon a Summer; Brev som kommer/ Letters That Come; Mykt hav / Tender Ocean; Eneboeren Zuikan / Zuikan the Hermit; Hokusai den gamle mester / Hokusai the old Master; Sju ganger ned og åtte ganger opp / Seven times Down and Eight times Up; Tre dråper vann / Three Drops of Water; Abel Ek / Abel Ek; Dråpen / The Drop; Solen, Snøen/ Sun, Snow; Stein, Vann / Stone, Water; Hvem er det som hvisker? / Who's the one Whispering?; Stupe i havet / Plunging into the Ocean; Fossen / The Angry Rapids; Havet og smilet / Smiling by the Ocean; Rødt og hvitt / Red and White.

Personnel: Ellen Bødtker: acoustic and Electric harp, e bows & piano; Jan Erik vold: voice; Arve Henriksen: trumpet, vocal & Electronics; Eirik Raude: percussion & electronics.

Title: Sommeren Der Ute | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Losen Records

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