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Two Scandinavian Jazz Orchestras

John Eyles By

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It can be notoriously difficult to keep large-scale improvising ensembles in check and prevent their music from spiralling into incoherence. At their best, when the balance between order and chaos is just right, they make thrilling listening and attract fans in abundance, just as jazz big bands once did. Classic examples include Carla Bley & Mike Mantler's Jazz Composers' Orchestra, Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra, Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, Keith Tippett's Centipede, and Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers' Orchestra. Two more recent large ensembles, both Scandinavian, deserve to be mentioned alongside those in that list. ...

Fire! Orchestra
Ritual
Rune Grammofon
2016

Centred on the Swedish trio Fire! (saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin), Fire! Orchestra was created in 2012 to replicate the trio's energy on a larger scale. Ritual is the orchestra's fourth album release, following hard on the heels of Exit! (2013), Enter (2014) and Second Exit (2014). Compared to their first two releases, which included nearly thirty musicians, Second Exit and now Ritual have featured smaller versions of the orchestra. They still include key personnel including the core trio plus vocalists Mariam Walletin and Sofia Jernberg, saxophonist Anna Högberg, Per Äke Holmlander on tuba, and Mats Äleklint on trombone.

One key to the orchestra's power is the six reed and five brass players in its ranks, alongside multiple drums, guitars and keyboards. Right from the start of the opener, "Ritual Part 1," that power is in evidence as the entire orchestra hits a catchy groove which has enough peripheral variation to keep it fresh. (See YouTube clip, below, for evidence.) The orchestra only drops down a gear for the entry of the twin vocalists, fortunate otherwise they could have been overwhelmed by that power. But Walletin and Jemberg pack a punch of their own, commanding attention throughout for their phrasing and expression as much as the strength of their voices. When they drop out, there is no shortage of distinctive soloists in the ranks, willing and able to step forward for a blow. It would be silly to single anyone out, as the whole point of this orchestra is its emphasis on the collective.

Across its five parts, totalling nearly fifty-three minutes, this suite strikes a good balance between the vocals and instruments, neither outstaying its welcome and each complementing the other well. Superbly recorded, the sound is full and clear, capturing every detail beautifully. Ritual is well up to the high standard that Fire! Orchestra have led us to expect.

Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Kim Myhr & Jenny Hval
In the End His Voice Will Be the Sound of Paper
Hubro
2016

In the End His Voice Will Be the Sound of Paper is in marked contrast to Ritual, reflecting the differences between the two orchestras. Trondheim Jazz Orchestra has existed since 2000, from 2004 onwards releasing about twenty albums, predominantly collaborations with fellow Norwegians as well as distinguished overseas musicians, including Chick Corea and Joshua Redman. With considerably fewer members than Fire! Orchestra, Trondheim Jazz Orchestra does not include as many brass and reeds players and so does not pack the same punch. Instead, it features more instruments such as acoustic guitar, harp, harmonium and percussion that can be deployed to subtly add coloration to the ensemble's soundscape.

Kim Myhr first collaborated with the orchestra in 2009, at the Molde International Jazz Festival, the results being released on Stems and Cages (MNJ Records, 2010). When he had the opportunity to work with the orchestra this second time, he invited vocalist Jenny Hval to join him, having known her for several years. Myhr frequently works with improvisation, as exemplified by his recording Tempo with the trio Mural, one of 2015's highlights. (Incidentally, Mural's saxophonist, Jim Denley, is also a member of Trondheim Jazz Orchestra.)

For In the End His Voice Will Be the Sound of Paper, Myhr gave Hval a lot of sketches and music. She then wrote the melody and lyrics, and they improvised; they both wanted the process to be quick and intuitive. The end results amply demonstrate the success of their working methods. Across eight tracks, ranging in length from three-and-three-quarter minutes to just under eight minutes, Hval's delicately expressive voice is perfectly framed by the understated accompaniment of the orchestra. Most importantly, her voice is never overwhelmed or lost, so her every utterance and nuance is heard clearly. The end results make compelling, riveting listening and are a credit to all concerned.

So, two very different recordings from contrasting ensembles, both excellent in their way. No need to choose between them; the sensible option is to savour both.

Tracks and Personnel

Ritual

Tracks: Ritual Part 1;Ritual Part 2;Ritual Part 3;Ritual Part 4;Ritual Part 5.

Personnel: Mariam Walletin: vocals; Sofia Jernberg: vocals; Susana Santos Silva: trumpet; Niklas Barnö: trumpet; Mats Äleklint: trombone; Hild Sofie Tafjord: French horn; Per Äke Holmlander: tuba; Mats Gustafsson: baritone and slide saxophone, conduction; Anna Högberg: alto and baritone saxophone; Mette Rasmussen: alto saxophone; Lotte Anker: tenor and soprano saxophone; Jonas Kullhammar: braithophone, bass and slide saxophone; Per Texas Johansson: clarinets and baritone saxophone; Julien Desprez: guitar; Finn Loxbo: guitar; Martin Hederos: keyboards and violin; Edvin Nahlin: keyboards; Andreas Berthling: electronics; Johan Berthling: bass; Andreas Werlin: drums; Mads Forsby: drums.

In the End His Voice Will Be the Sound of Paper

Tracks: Seed; Something New; Me, You, Me, You ; The Beak; Mass; Even The Vowels; Soft As Tongues; Silence A Beat.

Personnel: Kim Myhr: 12-string guitar, voice (5); Jenny Hval: voice; Christian Wallumrad: piano and harmonium; Rhodri Davies: harp; Kari Rennekliev: viola; Michae Duch: bass; Jim Denley: flutes and alto saxophone; Eivind Lenning: trumpet; Espen Reinertsen: tenor saxophone; Klaus Holm: clarinet; Martin Taxt: tuba; Morten Olsen: percussion; Tor Haugerud: drums.

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