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Sinikka Langeland: Starflowers

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In Horizons Touched: The Music Of ECM (Granta, 2007), guitarist Steve Tibbetts writes about folk artists: "Sometimes they start a musical movement that perpetuates or re-forms, sometimes they birth a musical dead end. Without much extrapolation, the first part of Tibbett's affirmation applies equally to producer Manfred Eicher, acclaimed for his talent at creating unique genre-crossing collaborations, as it does to vocalist/kantele player Sinikka Langeland. Starflowers, Langeland's first effort for ECM, is a project based on Norwegian Hans Borli's poetry that actually traces back to 1995, when she released Har Du Lyttet Til Elvene Om Natta? on the German Grappa label.

Kindled by her mother's Karelian heritage and advice, Langeland studied kantele playing as well as traditional rune singing and Norwegian kveding, while being physically remote from Finland, yet still immersed in its traditions as a resident of Finnskogen, the center of the Finnskog culture. Paired here with Scandinavia's best improvisers (bassist Anders Jormin, trumpeter Arve Henriksen, reedman Trygve Seim and percussionist Markku Ounaskari), the group sets to music the lumberjack-poet's philosophical and spiritual musings as he partakes in Finnskogen's natural grandeur.

Like most of Eicher's productions, the program's musical arc is a song in itself. Starting in a floaty, meditative atmosphere, the album opens with a phrase recalling Gregorian chant with its unmetered, repeated notes intoned above the kantele's ringing, harp-like chords. Then, each member of the ensemble enters gradually during "Den lillle fløyten, whose touching, children song-like verse finds echo in Langeland's symbiotic, almost nursery rhyme arrangement.

The recurring chordal figure of "Sølv introduces brief modal breaks thrice throughout the album—on "Støv, and after Ounaskari's inspired, introductory solo on "Sterjernestund —creating not only unity, but temporizing landmarks amidst the recording's somewhat elusive narrative plot.

"Treet Som Vekser Opp-Ned shifts gear as Ounaskari's cymbal work gets busier behind the ensemble's antiphonal exchanges. Arguably Borli's most powerful text here, "Sus i myrull, a manifesto decrying humanity's meaningless, materialist race ("Life is rich enough to forget the hours and bread and death ), follows the half-sprechgesang half-incantatory chanting of "Saltstein.

The rhythm section's loose yet driving rhythmic patterns propel the sole climaxed instrumental "Vindtreet, an Ornette Coleman-themed track in which the soloists converge towards an entrancing second theme played in unison that quickly disintegrates into a free jazz frenzy, with Seim taking obvious pleasure in torturing his horn.

In shading this particular folk genre's historically-charged performance practice with atmospheric and cutting-edge improvisation, the Langeland-Eicher tandem has artfully reconciled both art forms' imaginary boundaries, creating, by the same token, a trend that is to be perpetuated.

Track Listing: Høstnatt på Fjellskogen; Den lillle fløyten; Sølv; Treet som vekser opp-ned; Salstein; Sus i myrull; Støv; Stjernestund; Langt innpå skoga; Det er ei slik natt; Vindtreet; Elghjertet; Har du lyttet til elvene om natta?

Personnel: Sinikka Langeland: vocal, kantele; Arve Henriksen: trumpet; Trygve Seim: tenor and soprano saxophones; Anders Jormin: double-bass; Markku Ounaskari: percussion.

Title: Starflowers | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: ECM Records

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