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Sinikka Langeland: The Land That Is Not

John Kelman By

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Four years after her relentlessly beautiful ECM debut, Sinikka Langeland returns with the equally breathtaking The Land That Is Not. Following Starflowers (2007), the Norwegian singer/kantele player took a detour with Maria's Song (ECM, 2009), an intimate recording of folk songs and compositions by J.S. Bach that expanded upon territory visited on Påsketona (Nordic Sound, 2004). Few projects emerge entirely from a vacuum, and if Langeland's empathic Scandinavian quintet appeared to coalesce out of the ether for Starflower, the truth is that her career began its slow, inevitable journey towards that moment as far back as 1994, with the septet of Langt Innpå Skoga (Grappa) hinting at what was to come.

Langeland's relationships with trumpeter Arve Henriksen and bassist Anders Jormin date back to 2002's Runoja (Grappa) and 1995's Har du lyttet til elvene om natta? (Grappa) respectively, while her connections with saxophonist Trygve Seim (recruited, with characteristically astute instincts, by ECM label head/producer Manfred Eicher) and percussionist Markku Ounaskari are more recent. But the collective language shaped by artists clearly comfortable in a multitude of contexts—from the reverse-constructions of Henriksen's Cartography (ECM, 2009) and Jormin's improv-centric song cycle, In Winds, In Light (ECM, 2004), to Seim's compositional breakthrough, Sangam (ECM, 2005), and Ounaskari's collaborative Kuára: Psalms and Folk Songs (ECM) (one of 2010's best surprises)—has become all the stronger for time spent together on the concert stage...and in the studio, with Eicher once again acting as a tacit sixth member.

Langeland's group has nurtured Starflowers's nascent chemistry even further on The Land That Is Not, an album of poetry by Edith Sodergran and Olav H. Hauge that, set to Langeland's music, touches on matters existential and ethereal. Henriksen and Seim share an interest in extending the tonality of their instruments, making them a perfect match, but talking about Henriksen's shakuhachi-like sound, for example, has become superfluously monolithic, so broad is his reach. He may, indeed, resemble that Japanese instrument in the opening duet with Langeland's harp-like kantele on the gentle "It's The Dream," but in the second half of "Lucky Cat," with Jormin and Ounuskari creating propulsive forward motion, not only does his tone align more closely with the horn we know, but so, too, does Seim's saxophone, the two orbiting around each other with unexpected fire, the entire group peaking in a searing climax that's the closest thing Scandinavia has ever come to the astral jazz of Alice Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders.

Langeland's voice—by turns fragile, almost to the breaking point, and powerful at the other end of the spectrum—asserts The Land That Is Not's folkloric traditionalism, but equally there are moments of near-synchronicity with the sweeping music of Iro Haarla, though Langeland is less cinematically expansive than the Finnish pianist/harpist. Still, supported by the near-vocal lyricism of Seim, Henriksen and Jormin—a singing bassist, if ever there was one—and colored delicately or driven hard by Ounnaskari, The Land That Is Not is a fitting follow-up to the unexpected beauty of Starflowers, from one of Scandinavia's most compelling ensembles currently applying the spontaneous spirit of freewheeling jazz to its indigenous roots.

Track Listing: The Land That Is Not; What Is Tomorrow; A Strip of Sea; Triumph of Being; The River Murmurs; Lucky Cat; It's The Dream; The Day Cools; The Rose; Spring In the Mountains; Slowly The Truth Dawns.

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

Title: The Land That Is Not | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: ECM Records


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