Sinikka Langeland and Jaga Jazzist, Royal Festival Hall, London — a show of ice and fire

A contrast in styles at this all-Norwegian EFG London Jazz Festival concert
Financial Times David Honigmann

It was a show of ice and fire: medieval-tinged folk-jazz from Sinikka Langeland and an all-star ensemble, followed by genre-spanning electronic big-band noise from Jaga Jazzist. Appropriately for a country whose state broadcaster made a seven-hour programme about a train journey, the evening lasted three hours, pushing right to the limits of the venue’s permitted time. Langeland was joined by a host of ECM labelmates: Trio Medieval on vocals, Arve Henriksen on trumpet, Trygve Seim on saxophones, Markku Ounaskari on drums and Mats Eilertsen on double bass. Langeland plays the kantele, a flat zither with night-sky sparkle. Her set replicated her recent album The Magical Forest, which draws a northern arc from the depths of Norway to the Ainu of northern Japan. The songs tapped into deep reservoirs of the uncanny, starting with a prayer to the tree goddess, the trio singing slow upward harmonies, Seim breathing into his tenor like a panting woodland monster, Henriksen angelic. There was a wolfman; woman-birds flew around the world-pillar; Jacob witnessed the angels, the kantele a filigree ladder up to the heavens. Introducing “Kamui”, Langeland outlined the Ainu custom of raising a bear cub that is then “tortured to death” as a sacrifice; the audience were silent, unsure how to react. For the song she bowed the kantele, producing an anxious growl. Best of all was “Karsikko”, a meditation on grief, Langeland singing the hymn-like melody as a duet with Henriksen, Eilertsen arriving just at the end to underscore the lament.

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