Here we have a title that's both fitting and misleading. In Arabian mythology, a roc is a large and dangerous bird of prey capable of sinking ships and feeding on elephants. Daniel Herskedal offers a pan-Asian chamber-jazz travelogue through some exotic landscapes with his second solo release on Edition Records, but there's nothing intimidating about it. Instead The Roc is a vivid experience both adventurous and inviting.
The folk roots of Herskedal's native Norway are certainly evident and there's an inevitable jazz feeling when a tuba is in the lead, but the quintet's tones and musical structures have their other foot in western Asia (travels through which provided a measure of inspiration for these pieces). The opening "Seeds of Language" blends those things right from the start, weaving droning strings and circular piano patterns like a middle-Eastern cousin to the Penguin Café Orchestra. The cello and viola are used to sumptuous effect throughout the album, using rich tones and sinuous melodies to create a lovely alluring air of mystery.
The emphasis is on patiently weaving textures more than grabbing the ear with solos or melody lines. Herskedal coaxes impressively subtle tones from the tuba, though Eyolf Dale's piano is probably the busiest element overall. The strings most often stretch out slow and steady, each player doing their part to add the right piece to the overall picture. From the low roiling simmer of "Thurayya Railways" to a title track suitable for a camel ride, the percussion rhythms keep things at a steady canter to bring the themes of travel to life.
More than anything else, "All That Happened..." sounds like a movie score's finale for the closing creditsit begins with the record's most serene and minimalist passage, ambiguously hinting at both major and minor chords in turn, before growing to a sweeping finish with understated elegance. It's very apt to end such a picturesque recording. By this point it does indeed feel like we've watched an expansive journey unfold, and it's a tour that deserves many attentive returns.
The Seeds of Language; The Roc; Eternal Sunshine Creates A Desert; Kurd, Bayat,
Nahawand To Kurd; Hijaz Train Station; Thurayya Railways; The Afrit; There Are
Three Things You Cannot Hide: Love, Smoke And A Man Riding On A Camel; The
Krøderen Line; All That Has Happened, Happened As Fate Willed.
Daniel Herskedal: tuba, bass trumpet; Bergmund Waal Skaslien: viola; Svante
Henryson: cello; Eyolf Dale: piano; Helge Andreas Norbakken: percussion.