AVAILABLE NOW: Sinikka Langeland and Thomas Stronen | ECM
Available Now via ECM:
Sinikka Langeland’s Wolf Rune and
Thomas Strønen’s Bayou
Wolf Rune, the first solo recording in Sinikka Langeland’s ECM discography, sheds new light on the multifaceted work of the Norwegian folk singer and kantele player. Few artists embody the spirit of place as resolutely as Sinikka and her songs, compositions, poem settings and arrangements reflect, in different ways, the histories and mysteries of Finnskogen, Norway’s ‘Finnish forest’, which has long been both her home base and inspirational source.
The new album incorporates rune songs, spells and incantations, religious tunes and traditional folk dances, as well as verses that testify to the interlinked nature of all things. This pantheistic spirit is echoed in Sinikka’s choice of writers – from 13th century medieval mystic and philosopher Meister Eckhart (quoted and adapted on “When I was The Forest”) to contemporary playwright and poet Jon Fosse (“Row My Ocean”). Langeland’s own lyrics, too, have an almost shamanistic vibrancy as on “The Eye of the Blue Whale”: “The eye of the blue whale/It was already here/we were without a body/ swathed in sinew, flesh and blood/we were without words.”
Powerful images require appropriate musical settings and on Wolf Rune, Langeland expands the range and reach of her instruments accordingly. Ancient tones can be heard here, as well as sonorities that take the kantele toward new expressive areas. This journey, from the archaic through the worlds of Nordic folk to the experimental, has become an exploratory thread in Langeland’s work. Her earlier ECM recordings – beginning with Starflowers in 2006 – instigated collaboration with improvisers; in the process, her own playing has become emboldened.
Sinikka is playing three kanteles, of very different character and capacity, on the present recording. Her 39-string concert kantele, built by Hannu Koistinen, is heard on “Polsdance from Finnskogen”, “Row My Ocean”, “The Eye Of The Blue Whale”, “When I Was The Forest”, “Don’t Come to Me With The Entire Truth”, “The Girl In The Headlands” and “Wolf Rune”. Over the course of the album Sinikka makes full use of the instrument’s five and a half octaves. “The range is almost like an entire piano. Many people are surprised by how big and deep its bass is,” Langeland notes.
“Winter Rune” features both the concert kantele and a 5-string kantele made by Kaijo Säteri. The 5-string is also heard on the two “Kantele Prayer” pieces. Sinikka: “It’s a challenge to figure out how much music you can create with a few strings.” A 15-string kantele built by Erkki Okkonen is played with a bow on the opening “Moose Rune,” and plucked on “I See Your Light”. On “When I Was the Forest” the use of an E-bow coaxes new colours and textures from the concert kantele. But here, too, Langeland keeps in mind music’s time-honoured role of responding to and echoing the sounds of nature.
Sinikka Langeland was born in Kirkenær in southeastern Norway in 1961, and studied piano, guitar and contemporary folk song. In 1981 she began to play the kantele, the Finnish table-harp which would become her primary musical interest, along with singing. In the 1980s she also devoted time to theatre work and to studies at Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris and at the University of Oslo, where she earned a degree in musicology in 1992. She then became absorbed in a major research project, foraging for old songs and music from Finnskogen, and helping to revive the region’s folk traditions.
Wolf Rune was recorded at Oslo’s Rainbow studio in December 2019. Sinikka Langeland’s previous albums for ECM are Starflowers (recorded 2006), Maria’s Song (2008), The Land That Is Not (2010), The Half-Finished Heaven (2013) and The Magical Forest (2015).
CD booklet for Wolf Rune includes all song texts in Norwegian and English
A fresh and open music – delicate, space-conscious and adventurous – is shaped as drummer Thomas Strønen and pianist Ayumi Tanaka, previously heard together in the ensemble Time Is A Blind Guide, resurface in a trio with clarinettist/singer/percussionist Marthe Lea.
Openness is the watchword here. The album came into being after Thomas Strønen visited Munich to finalize aspect of his Lucus project with Time Is A Blind Guide. “I played Manfred Eicher part of the very first concert with Ayumi and Marthe which I happened to have on my laptop – just a rough document that I’d made with one microphone. He caught the special tension and stylistic freedom in this trio and said we should do a studio recording – which was a welcome surprise.”
The trio had been conceived primarily as an open-form rehearsal and sound research project, “drifting between elements of contemporary classical music, folk music, jazz, whatever we were inspired by. Sometimes the music was very quiet and minimalistic, and sometimes it was the opposite. Playing together generated some special experiences.”
That spontaneous spirit is reflected in the trio’s debut recording. With the exception of the title piece, based on a traditional Norwegian tune, the music on Bayou was created collectively, in the moment, drawing upon the individual and shared histories of the musicians. The improvisations here are named for diverse waterways, rivers and lakes, as fitting metaphor for the glistening fluidity of the music, and also in acknowledgement of the recording location, in Lugano, Switzerland
Lea’s beautifully phrased vocal performances on the two versions of the title piece mark the first time that she had sung with the trio. She had however sung a lot of folk songs in childhood, latterly reclaiming this resource as part of a wide palette that also includes free improvising. Since the recording, Marthe has sung on most of the trio’s gigs. “It’s always a highlight,” says Strønen, “and it’s always different.” She has also gone on to participate in and win prizes at competitions for traditional unaccompanied singing. As an improvising reed player, she often embraces diverse flutes and tenor sax in concert. The focus on clarinet on the present recording suggests lines of influence that stretch back to Jimmy Giuffre (an association underlined by Tanaka’s sometimes Bley-ish piano) as well as to contemporary freer players such as Fredrik Ljungkvist.
Ayumi Tanaka, born into a musical family in Japan, was schooled in classical music from the age of three. At college, while studying contemporary composition, she also began to explore improvisation, a study that intensified with her moving first to Sweden and then to Norway. Strønen praises her commitment to any project of which she is a part. “I think Ayumi’s become a really strong player in the last few years, able in her improvisations to bring in something from her background – both the contemporary classical experiences and the culture she comes from.” Tanaka’s own projects have included a three pianos ensemble with Christian Wallumrød and Johan Lindvall, and a trio with bassist Christian Meaas Svendsen and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen. An ECM recording with the Ayumi Tanaka Trio will be released later this year.
Thomas Strønen’s groups have each had clearly demarcated characters. Food, his collaboration with saxophonist Iain Ballamy, increasingly emphasized electronics over the course of its recordings while Time Is A Blind Guide has developed as an acoustic chamber ensemble playing Thomas’s compositions. The trio heard on Bayou is very different again, distinctive in its sense of borderless inquiry and musical interplay, and freely improvisational.
The group first convened at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, where Strønen has an associate professorship and where Tanaka and Lea were studying, the players meeting regularly for exploratory music making.
Bayou was recorded in August 2018 at Lugano’s Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, and produced by Manfred Eicher.
Sinikka Langeland | Wolfe Rune
Thomas Strønen | Bayou
ECM | Release Date: April 9, 2021
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