Ireland.com/The Ticket – Starflowers Review

Ireland.com / The Ticket Friday / July 06, 2007 / Ray Comiskey

Singing with strings

CD choice: Jazz

SINIKKA LANGELAND Starflowers ECM

Sinikka Langeland is a gifted folk singer, but not one stifled by tradition. Her ability to work seamlessly with jazz musicians, as she does so memorably here, is part of the reason for the success of this marriage of folk, jazz and poetry.

Langeland comes from north- east Norway, as did the late Hans Børli, a poet who spent his life there as a lumberjack. Børli’s writing is suffused with a feel for the forests. It’s earthy, close to nature and draws its imagery from that. But it’s also deeply spiritual, with roots that seem to reach back to the myths of apre-Christian Nordic past, yet resonantly contemporary.

All this is reflected in Langeland’s literary and musical choices. She interpreted Børli’s work for years, using voice and kantele, or Finnish table harp, sometimes with jazz musicians. This time she moved even closer to jazz. With Arve Henriksen (trumpet), Trygve Seim (tenor/ soprano), Anders Jormin (bass) and Markku Ounaskari (percussion) contributing qualities of tonal and rhythmic flexibility, jazzinteraction and improvisation, what results is a delicate, sustained and moving illumination of Børli’s work.

The kantele, which sounds like the old Irish wire-strung harp, is highly flexible in Langeland’s hands. Expressively full of overtones, it can simply support the voice, as on Høstnatt på fjellskogan (AutumnNight in the Mountain Woods; the booklet provides Norwegian and English texts), or blend with the others in rubato or rhythmic performances.

Individually and collectively, the quintet is superb. Henriksen and Seim play brilliantly off the voice and each other, while the group catches a variety of moods persuasively; they can groove withunderstated power on Den lille fløyten (The Little Flute), catch the other-worldly atmosphere of Treetsom vekser opp-ned (The Tree That Grows Upside Down), and celebrate rural over urban life in Sus i myrull (Whispers in the Cotton Grass).

On a near-faultless album, perhaps the most gripping of all are Langt innpå skoga (Deep in the Forest) and Har du lyttet til elvene om natta? (Have You Listened to the Rivers in the Night?), which compellingly unite the visceral and mystic elements of Børli’s poetry. But there are jewels everywhere on this arresting example of ego-free music-making. One of the albums of this or any other year.

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