Norwegian singer and kantele player Sinikka Langeland leads her Norwegian-Finnish-Swedish Starflowers quintet through a series of songs built upon myths and legends from Finnskogen, the forested area in eastern Norway bordering Sweden where Langeland has been based since 1992. The name means "forest of the Finns," reflecting the history of Finnish migration to the place during the 17th century. The quintet is augmented by the singers of the Trio Mediaeval, giving the folkloric element in Langeland's fusion of traditional and contemporary music a bit more emphasis than on previous albums.
Her previous recording The Half-Finished Heaven, (ECM, 2015) included only two of the quintet members, so the full quintetfirst appearing on Starflowers (ECM, 2007)was last heard on The Land That Is Not (ECM, 2011). Band members saxophonist Trygve Seim, trumpeter Arve Henriksen, double bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Markku Ounaskari are some of the most distinctive Scandinavian players, and all are bandleaders in their own right. But here they are all focused on creating a group sound, which includes Langeland's kantele (Finnish table-harp, a traditional plucked string instrument similar to the dulcimer and zither). It has become more prominent in the improvised sections as her instrumental confidence has grown.
Langeland describes this program as "songs that are encircled by instrumental passages and improvisations by the musicians." Indeed there is only one purely instrumental selection, the title track. But the songs set up the instrumentalists in distinctive ways: it is the combination of archaic and contemporary improvisational elements that gives this music its individual identity. The opener "Puun Loitsu" teases with vocals and minimal bass and percussion accompaniment. Then "Sammas" opens with the full band, gently leading into the song proper. There's a lot of sympathetic trading between Seim and Henriksen, which continues behind the singing. "Jacob's Dream" takes the opposite tack, presenting the song first (accompanied by only kantele) before the band plays a reflective instrumental coda.
"The Wolfman" shows the increased prominence of the kantele with dramatic harp glissandi, like the ones often heard in Western classical harp music. It is also an active participant in "The Magical Forest," the sole instrumental piece, finally giving way to the horns.
There are only two songs here that borrow directly from traditional sources: "Puun Loitsu" is based on a rune song text from Finnskogen, and "Karsikko" is based on a folk hymn melody from Glåmdalen. But Langeland is so immersed in the sounds of the forest and the history of the region that there is no clear line between her original music and her roots. The same can be said of her band, who selflessly integrate themselves into her sound-world.
Puun Loitsu; Sammas; Jacob's Dream; The Wolfman; The Magical
Karsikko; Pillar to Heaven.
Sinikka Langeland: kantele, vocals; Trygve Seim: soprano and tenor
Arve Henriksen: trumpet; Anders Jormin: double bass; Markku
percussion; Trio Mediaeval (Anna Maria Friman, Berit Opheim; Linn