Thanks to the ECM label, many of us were exposed for the first time to the beautiful vocals of Norwegian folk singer Kirsten Bråten Berg and Swedish folk singer Lena Willemark. Both have always sought new forms to present and interpret their rich musical heritage. Berg collaborated with Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen in rearranging traditional Nordic songs (Sagn
, ECM, 1991; Arv
, KKV, 1994) and Andersen guested on her release Syng Du Mi Røyst
(Grappa, 2001). Willemark's collaborations with two other Swedish musicians, multi-instrumentalist Ale Möller and bassist Palle Danielsson, were documented by ECM on Nordan
(1994) and Agram
(1996), on which she and Möller rearranged traditional Swedish songs. She also recently collaborated with the great Swedish bassist Andres Jormin on In Winds, In Light
The third member of this feminine trio, Danish percussionist Marilyn Mazur, has worked in the past with Miles Davis, the Gil Evans Orchestra, and Wayne Shorter. She's been a member of Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek's quartet for the last fifteen years, and she recorded one of her first releases as a leader for ECM (Small Labyrinths, 1997). But as often happens, a gem like Stemmenes Skygge (Shadow of Voices), the first recorded collaboration by Berg, Mazur, and Willemark, is being released by a small Norwegian label, Heilo, without the efficient distribution that labels like ECM can offer.
Berg, Willemark, and Mazur played as a trio for the first time at the Norwegian Molde Jazz Festival in 2000, where their arrangements of medieval Nordic ballads accompanied dancer Ingrid Lorentzen. Three years later they recorded Stemmenes Skygge in Copenhagen. Medieval Nordic songs and ballads that embrace mysticism and longing, love, and suppressed emotions are still the basis for Stemmenes Skygge, but Berg and Willemark add their original texts to the traditional ones, blending themes and stories from Norwegian and Swedish origins and leaving enough room for Mazur to color these songs with her minimalist and delicate playing.
Berg and Willemark's a cappella arrangement of "Agnus Dei," with additional text by Berg, is simply arresting. Berg's dark and earthy tone complement Willemark's high and passionate vocals. On the short instrumental "Gammelspaken Polskan," Berg and Willemark demonstrate their proficiency on the mouth-harp and the violin. Mazur uses only cymbals and bells on her "Edh Buser," and the distant angelic vocals of Willemark and Berg add to the dream-like atmosphere of this song. The concluding "Valian" is a fourteen-minute suite that evolves around the imaginative playing of Mazur, who supplies washes of waves, referencing African-based rhythms, and climaxes with an eruptive marching solo that leads to the closing a cappella singing.
Stemmenes Skygge provides a different kind of listening experiencecalm and slow, capturing different moods (quite often dark ones, as you might expect from such ballads and themes)and a remarkably daring one, but still a very beautiful and gratifying experience.
Visit Kirsten Bråten Berg and Marilyn Mazur on the web.