If jazz is an art of synthesis (rather than fusion
) whereby disparate musical forms and styles are brought together in the spirit of exploration and experimentation to create something new, then Starflowers
is just about the perfect album.
Vocalist Sinikka Langeland, of Norwegian and Finnish background, has merged her investigations of the folk music of her homeland with the poetry of Hans Børli, the kantele or Finnish table harp and the jazz aesthetic of ECM and three of its stellar musicians (trumpeter Arve Henriksen
, saxophonist Trygve Seim
and bassist Anders Jormin
) to produce a work of myth and mystery.
As with Anat Fort and her first release A Long Story
(ECM, 2007) the recognition that an ECM debut brings did not happen overnight. She has worked with Jormin for more than a dozen years, recorded with Henriksen previously and plays regularly with Markku Ounaskari, the percussionist on this release.
Langeland, in constantly expanding the sources of her interests and their musical expression, shows that jazz is truly a world music. Nevertheless, Starflowers
is most definitely music of the north, as anyone who responds to Jean Sibelius' Lemminkäinen Suite
The music is stark, but paradoxically rich, starting with Langeland's unique voice and presentation. The kantele adds a floating, thin but sustained sound that entwines itself around everything else. From the first notes of "Hastnatt på Fjellskogen"," with their clashing, naturally "out of tune" upper harmonics, we have entered a different worldone that is old, hidden and beautiful in its austerity.
The supporting band is magnificent and brings the feel of improvisation to what was originally folk music in its rhythmic base. Langeland was first seduced by Jan Garbarek
's sound, which epitomized for her wide spaces and timelessness, twenty-five years ago. Seim, while not copying that unique sound, adds, through his timbre, intonation and phrasing, a sense of deepness, longing and awe.
Henriksen, who has appeared on a number of recent ECM releases, once again displays his unique timbre that is shocking when connected to the word "trumpet." Flute-like and other-worldly, his sound adds much to the mystery that the music evokes, and he uses it wisely when playing with Seim.
Jormin provides the combination of precision and exciting rhythmic drive that he is known for, while playing exactly-pitched harmonic solos that add one more eerie thread to the Nordic tapestry. The rhythmic foundation of the music is expertly provided by Ounaskari, who brings a propulsive sparseness to his playing that meshes perfectly with the rest of the band.
Most of the compositions are settings of the nature poems of Børli and having the words nearby does enhance the listening experience, but the music stands on its own, as the purely instrumental, swinging and grand "Vindtreet" demonstrates.
is a magnificent work of art that is almost humbling to listen to.