THE HALF-FINISHED HEAVEN
The World in the Forest
Morgenbladet 27.02 2015
Sinikka Langeland is one of the Norwegian artists who most clearly combines the local with the international. In a sense she breaks out of the ordinary Norwegian mould through her use of song traditions from Finnskogen and the string instrument kantele. But her collaborations with jazz musicians have consistently shown that this is music that communicates with the world without local restrictions, and Langeland’s releases on the ECM label place her work within a global context.
On The Half-Finished Heaven, her fourth ECM record since Starflowers (2007), she has gathered some of the threads from previous recordings. The project focuses on ensemble work among Nordic jazz musicians, as on the first recording and on The Land That Is Not (2011). Here Langeland offered a textual dimension with her musical settings of poems by Edith Södergran and Hans Børli, among others.
Maria’s Song (2009), which combined folk songs about the Virgin Mary with compositions by Bach, was an exception from this method, and illustrated the deeper roots of Langeland’s work. Here, however, although the aspects of the work relating to feminism and musical dramaturgy were notable, they lacked the improvisational and collaborative elements that marked the other records.
Birds. This time Langeland combines musicians from these two parallel paths. She lets violist Lars Anders Tomter from Maria’s Song meet Trygve Seim (saxophone) and Markku Ounaskari (percussion) from the jazz band. This opens up new possibilities for her, and reveals additional nuances in the music. In “Hare Rune” the ensemble is reminiscent of Karl Seglem, while associations with pop and rock groups ranging from Bel Canto to Mona & Maria are also evoked.
The music moves from positively funky, as in “The Magical Bird”, to bordering on the sentimental, as in the title cut. But Langeland has control over the expressive element, and she and the other musicians keep their sense of balance.
Nordic poetry is represented by three settings of poems by Tomas Tranströmer. Langeland emphasises the Nobel laureate’s natural mysticism, and sets the poems in compositions inspired by nature and animals. Birds have an especially strong presence on the record, with woodcocks, cranes and blue tits appearing in the song titles. In the last-mentioned, Tomter is given the opportunity to imitate birdsong.
Constantly developing. A world-class performer, Langeland upholds her reputation by maintaining high quality in every detail. She herself is a kantele virtuoso, and her playing ranges from high-pitched melody lines (“The Tree and the Sky”) to deep, grating tones (“Caw of the Crane”). Using the kantele as her focal point, she leads the musicians in an interplay that highlights, not least, Tomter’s skill as a performer, whether he is improvising together with Langeland in “Animal Miniatures” or interpreting the theme together with Seim in “The White Burden”.
Here Langeland displays her expertise as a composer, performer and bandleader, and as the originator of an expressive idiom that can be traced as far back as to the record Har du lyttet til elvene om natten (1995). The ensemble enhances Langeland’s ability to break with traditions and cross-connect them, and the entire package fits nicely into the constantly broader artistic scope that the ECM productions are enabling her to develop.
Jon Mikkel Broch Ålvik