Idiosyncratic to the core, ambitious beyond measure, and knowing no idiomatic limitations, since the early 1990s Swedish vocalist and composer Lina Nyberg
has captivated and surprised listeners with the astonishing range of her unique artistic vision. She has performed with a "who's who" list of Swedish musicians, from iconic figures like Esbjorn Svensson
and Palle Danielsson
to out-leaning players like Mattias Ståhl
, Magnus Broo
, and Torbjorn Zetterberg
. Her repertoire and arrangements are consistently imaginative and courageous, and her regular bandpianist Cecilia Persson
, guitarist David Stackenäs
, bassist Josef Kallerdahl, and drummer Peter Danemo
is a top foursome eminently capable of negotiating the twists and turns of Nyberg's challenging compositions. It is somewhat mysterious, therefore, that she has yet to get the kind of attention across the Atlantic that she has earned in Europe.
Maybe part of the answer lies in the sheer scope of Nyberg's body of work. Heedless of commercial considerations, she does exactly what she wants, irrespective of stylistic parameters or artistic conventions. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than on her current release, Terrestrial
, the last of a trio of double-CD releases, each of which seeks nothing less than to somehow wrap itself around the mysteries of existence. Perhaps Nyberg's most ambitious project to dateand that is truly saying somethingthis collection of music began with 2014's Sirenades
, which included a disc of superb big-band arrangements of Nyberg's music in addition to a set with just her quintet. Then in 2016 she released Aerials
, joining up with the Vindla String Quartet to provide a chamber-jazz treatment of pieces ranging from standards ("Fly Me to the Moon," "Skylark") to freely creative jaunts. On Terrestrial
Nyberg brings the trilogy to a compelling close, this time with the help of the NorrlandsOperan Symphony Orchestra, as Nyberg's largest artistic palette to date helps her situate her music on an even more impressive foundation.
Given that the earlier releases in the trilogy tackled themes such as the intersections between the human and the fantastical (Sirenades
) or the nature of flight, both avian and interplanetary (Aerials
), one doesn't blink when encountering the bold cosmic thrust of pieces like "Milky Way" or "Another World," found on the first disc of Terrestrial
. Nyberg's ability to conjoin her band to the rich possibilities offered by the NorrlandsOperan orchestra lends a strong jazz-inflected flavor to these arrangements; the majestic opening of "Milky Way" leads into a swinging rhythm sustained by a lithe ostinato from Kallerdahl and nimble accents from Danemo, while the band gets a moment of its own on "The Planet" with some mutual improvisation in support of Nyberg's scatting, and "Gravity" has the character of a symphonic jazz ballad, with the NorrlandsOperan musicians perfectly in line behind Nyberg. Nyberg's lyrics handle the weight of the themes capably, albeit with a few infelicitous choices here and there ("I'm the planet I'm the Mother/I grow all things I own all things"). All in all, the orchestral arrangements are rather effective, particularly the ones with Nyberg's core band as an integral component; if the purely symphonic pieces aren't quite as strong by comparison, it's simply because the band is so good that listeners will want to hear as much of it as possible.
Fortunately, the second disc affords ample opportunities to do just that, as these seven tracks highlight the strength of rapport and fundamental musical integrity that is so central to Nyberg and her colleagues. Although the material has less conceptual heft, the more mundane subject matter of "Lazy Afternoon" or "Everyone Sang" (the latter a reprise from Aerials
) paradoxically gives Nyberg a chance to highlight her vocal chance-taking even more convincingly, with substantially less restraint than is evident on the first disc. The open feel of the seven-minute version of "Lazy Afternoon" allows Nyberg to stretch out at length, with the band careful not to overplay its hand, even though these musicians are more than capable of delivering the goods, as we hear on the vigorous up-tempo groove during "Everyone Sang," the contagious swirling rhythm of Joao Gilberto
's "Undiú," or Stackenäs' scalding solo on the incendiary "Ingrid." And the shape-shifting malleability of "Entropia," with the band adroitly following each and every detour Nyberg wants to take, brings a valuable insight into high relief. For all the undeniable ambition and conceptual scope of Nyberg's impressive recorded legacy, sometimes the richest pleasures are still to be found in the likeliest of places: a well-honed, seasoned working quintet that can make all the magic one needs in just a few minutes of pure, uninhibited expression.