Records of the year 2019 FeaturedWritten by Karl Erik Sylthe
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On the last day of the year, I take a look back at 2019, and select the very best records I've reviewed during this year. It has been a brutal process to have to reduce the selection to ten discs - there is an incredible amount of good music that has passed my keyboard over the past year. The order of this list is chronological. Enjoy the reading!
Leonard Cohen – Thanks for the Dance
The actual parting
Canadian giant Leonard Cohen released his latest album You Want It Darker a few days before he died on November 7, exactly three years ago. But he had even more in his heart, and before he died he managed to make some musical sketches in his home studio. And his son Adam Cohen, who is also a musician and music creator, had through conversations captured what events Leonard Cohen had envisioned.
Based on this evidence, Adam Cohen has subsequently produced an album that he believes is in Leonard's spirit. It becomes a setting almost like when Mozart's student Sussmayr completed Wolfgang Amadeus's Requiem, which he failed to complete himself. And, of course, Adam Cohen has respectfully got along with a number of talented musicians who pretend to have gone to the task with great awe.
The result has been an album that is an immensely powerful musical experience. It is characterized by low-key minimalism, which at the same time is resounding in its strength. In principle, it is possible to claim that this is not a full-blooded Leonard Cohen album, since he himself was not present to handle the details. But at the same time, I feel Thanks for the Dance is almost like being more Cohen than any other album, and an even better album than You Want It Darker, despite the absence of the iconic title track on the latter. And perhaps the very best, despite the fact that, with its meager half hour, it may also be the shortest, at least in the CD's age.
Of course, one may be tempted to emphasize some tunes, but easily become paralyzed in fear of omitting anything. And the lyrics are pure poetry, with its fascinating blend of uncanny, sensuality and lyrical images.
Also, the sound is great and with great presence and transparency, despite being originated from a home studio. It was not possible to get past Thanks for the Dance as the album of the week that Friday in november, a day that also poured us another fine Cohen release which is a concert recording from the Paris Theater in London from the artist's morning in 1968.
Dans les arbres - Volatil
Brilliant music and sound!
Dans Les Arbres is a Norwegian-French ensemble consisting of French clarinetist Xavier Charles, Ivar Grydeland on guitar, Christian Wallumrød on piano and Ingar Zach on percussion. The music is improvisational music where it can be a demanding exercise to give precise characteristics, but jazz is of course a key element. For those of us who have a special focus on Christian Wallumrød as one of Norway's most interesting musicians at the moment, it is tempting to say that the musical landscape is not very surprising.
Dans Les Arbres has three previous releases - the first already in 2006. The first two releases Dans Les Arbres and Canoopee were released on ECM, while the last Phosphorescence was released on Hubro. Now the exciting label SOFA has got into the ensemble, and for those who think that this first release Volatil is demanding for the listener, I can state that this is one of the kindest you get from SOFA. Otherwise, look for more reviews from this label in upcoming weeks.
Volatil is the first release to consist of a live recording. The music is a mere 53 minutes long track where the music is constantly evolving and changing. A fascinating walk in soundscapes is a way of viewing the highly fascinating music. Although it may seem distant at first, for a few moments I get some involuntary sonic associations with an over 50 year old cut from the Grateful Dead, in the typical track Feedback on the album Live / Dead . It might illustrate that this music is, after all, quite timeless. And that the Grateful Dead started somewhere a little different from where they ended up.
And then I must mention that the music is not at all as difficult to access as I might have suggested further up. I'd rather argue that this is a very good opportunity for anyone interested in expanding the horizon towards free jazz / contemporary music.
The sound is directly brilliant on this release, with great dynamics, perspective and sound. And a contributing reason why Volatil was named the week's plate in a very strong competition with many other outstanding releases.
Read more about Volatil at SOFA
Mats Eilertsen - Reveries and Revelations
Groundbreaking beautiful music that goes its own ways
The fact that Mats Eilertsen is a very dominant Norwegian jazz bassist is currently illustrated among others by having been featured in Audiophile.no in connection with three record releases earlier this year. Both on his own release And Then Comes The Night at ECM, which was also named the Record of the Week, and as bassist at Jacob Young's Evening Falls . And also on Helge Lien Trio - 10 , also titled the Record of the Week. In addition, fellow writer Stig Arne has listened to his merits with Trygve Seim on Vossajazz . Mats Eilertsen has been on the record label Hubro for 10 years, but also has a number of releases on ECM.
This time, Mats Eilertsen goes new ways, both musically and in relation to the process of developing the music. On most of the tracks, he started by sending over selected bass tracks to a number of hand-picked musical colleagues, and asked them to supplement what ever they wanted. A very original starting point, and the result has also become very exciting music.
But it is probably more than the procedure that has the credit for the fantastic and unconventional result, because according to liner notes, Mats Eilertsen has gone beyond his own musical lane in the selection of bass creations. Norwegian jazz giants such as Geir Sundstøl, Arve Henriksen, Eivind Aarseth, Per Oddvar Johansen and Thomas Strønen are contributors to this unique release, which tends to be a strong candidate as the album of the year in Audiophile.no.
The music lies somewhere in the boundaries between jazz and contemporary music. The funny thing is that although there are musicians who are mainly characterized as pure jazz musicians, Reveries and Revelations may have most of the center of gravity in contemporary music. And when the unique and exciting music is combined with the wonderful sound signed by Daniel Wold, this has become a record that you can never miss.
Read more about Reveries and Revelations at Hubro
Ensemble Ernst – Xtended Heart & Unheard Herbs
Great interpretations of innovative compositions
Ensemble Ernst is one of the really exciting contemporary music ensembles we have in Norway, and my keyboard has crossed the ensemble on a couple of occasions earlier in the recent past. We are talking about Julian Skar's release Exaust / Renew more than a year ago, released on Aurora. And not least the exquisite BUT released on Lawo, which was awarded "the album of the year" in Audiophile.no a few years ago.
Also this time there is a release on Lawo, with the subtle title Xtended Hearts and Unheard Herds . Here are four works by four different composers.
And we start with the first work that is also the longest, and perhaps the most exciting. The almost 22-minute On the Guarding of the Heart was composed by Serbian-Swedish 44-year-old composer Djuro Zivkovic , who was born in Belgrade but has lived in Stockholm since the turn of the millennium. There is a lot of excitement, dynamics and sometimes also drama in the music, which is not really difficult to access despite innovative elements. Perhaps the album's most fascinating composition, which is enhanced by a great sound, dynamic and crystal clear sound.
Where Zivkovic's composition gives me a little urban, perhaps technical associations are the nature that dominates Norwegian Ragnhils Berstad 's composition xtendõ . Maybe there is a mountain farm that pops up there behind the vocals that mix with other mountain sounds, or maybe it just happens in my head? It really doesn't matter - the choice is mine. And yours.
(herd) STUDY has a peculiar title, and first-rate jails with repetitive, slightly disturbing sounds. It's hard to avoid associations with the minimalist giant Steve Reich in this composition by Jan Martin Smørdal from Horten, who is also co-founder of Ensemble neoN - an ensemble I also have on the CD player these days with a far more demanding release than Xtended Heart & Unheard Herbs. Regardless, STUDY is a fierce competitor to On the Guarding of the Heart in the battle for the album's most exciting song.
And by all means, we must not bypass Jan Erik Mikalsen's Jeger (Hunter) , or Gammel Jegermarsj (Old Hunter's March) as it is called before it has gone through Mikalsen's Extreme and quite fun transformation. My previous musical meeting With the Composer Jan Erik Mikalsen from Kristiansund was with the great release SAAN at Aurora. This time we must allow ourselves to say that this is a kind of recomposition with a twinkle in the eye. For the old hunter march that we otherwise experience in a tight figure on 17. of May, performed by the local girl and boys corps, here sounds to be carried by a lyric box. Or a duracell rabbit where it is just before the batteries run out - exhausted and tired of having played all day and half the night in this eternal train. And to emphasize that point, the music dies suddenly before the melody is finished. Fantastic!
The sound of Xtended Heart & Unheard Herbs is consistently exquisite, and helped make the album a Place among the Records of the year!
Read more about Xtended Heart & Unheard Herbs at Lawo
Helge Lien Trio - 10
Acoustic trio jazz of a very high class
The album title reflects that this is the 10th album in the series from Helge Lien Trio. But at the same time, it is a little inprecise, because although it is the trio's tenth album, it is the first album with this crew. In the trio that started 20 years ago, only Helge Lien himself remains. Knut Ålefjær performed the drums until Per Oddvar Johansen took over in 2013, while Mats Eilertsen took over after Frode Berg on bass in 2018.
It is not uncommon for a CD to become a double LP due to the well known time constraints on the LP format. At 10, the record label Ozella has chosen to go the opposite way - a double CD has become a single LP. Of course, this means that the musical selection is severely limited on the LP compared to the double CD. This review is based on the LP, but I have also listened to the digital edition via TIDAL.
There is a pretty big musical range on this LP. And although everything sorts safely within the main category of jazz, we find elements that have a slight folk inspiration. While other songs are clearly more explorative. For my own part, I value the whole spectrum and find that some of the strength of the album is precisely this musical span, from the very melodically focused songs Popkoral and Krystal, via Jazzkoral's formulation to the more exploratory Be Patient and Loose Gore.
This is the first studio album not recorded at Rainbow studio. This may be a cause for concern initially, as Rainbow studio is renowned for its sound directed by late Jan Erik Kongshaug. This proves to be a particularly unfounded concern. For this 180 gram LP has an incredibly good sound. Very good dynamics, and almost spooky perspective.
Fantastic music with brilliant sound means that Helge Lien - 10 was voted the Album of the week in the beginning of june, and also got an obvious Place among the 10 albums of the year - 2019.
Read more at Ozella Music
Eivind Audstad Trio - Northbound
Magical piano trio
The pianist Eivind Austad is from Bergen, Norway, and has picked another man from Bergen on bass. Magne Thormodsæter is one of the great Norwegian jazz bassists, and has played with a number of jazz giants. Such as Terje Rypdal, Ståle Storløkken, Paola Vinaccia, Karin Krog and John Surman, as well as being the musical director for Bergen Big Band.
The drummer is Håkon Mjåseth Johansen, another significant Norwegian jazz musician, who is known, among other things, from the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and Come Shine. And by coincidence (or maybe not…?) These two latter musicians also form the rhythm section in another release in the same "record tasting". More on that later.
Eivind Austad is still one of the musicians who in my ears gives the most character to this second album from the trio. He has a slight draw towards the minimalist and rhythmic distinct, and can occasionally give some associations to Erlend Skomsvoll's touch. That means he does not shy away from the very virtuoso when it moods like that. But usually it is a bit more minimalist subtlety that characterizes the piano playing, often combined with rhythmically accented touches.
I can't help but emphasize the great and slightly funny interpretation of David Bowie's son Space Oddity , perhaps one of the most low-key songs on the record.
The consistently fine music on Northbound is enhanced by a good and transparent sound reproduction on this release from Losen Records. Good dynamic contrast is a prerequisite for successful rendering of the piano trio, which plays to such great extent on dynamic pulses and impulses.
Read more about Northbound at Losen records
Anders Jormin - Poems For Orchestra
Magnificent and beautiful
Anders Jormin is a candidate for the title of Swedish Lending Jazz Bassist, and has a formidable track record, both in terms of record releases and who he has played with. And after the turn of the century, it has largely been the ECM he has kept to, but this time he has gone to Losen Records.
This is far from the first time Anders Jormin included Lena Willemark on recordings. This Swedish singer and violinist has a very distinctive and distinctive voice that exudes folk-inspired sounds, and she was a beacon on the sparkling 2L recording ujamaa released this fall.
In addition to Karin Nakagawa in koto, Jormin has included Bohuslän Big Band , a big band that for some of us became especially known for recording old Zappa songs with good looks, on the live album Bohuslän Big Band Plays Zappa .
But now it is Anders Jormin's compositions that apply. And a little atypical for Jormin is the dominant big band jazz this time around, but where it still alternates between more small scale passages and big band events. And Lena Willemark is sparkling on this release too. Her expression alternates between the lyrical and the more powerful phrases. And it is really only her involuntary folk-inspired associations that constitute the only side jumps from pure jazz to this release.
Poems For Orchestra is recorded in Nilento Studio a little south of Gothenburg, with Lars Nilsson behind the levers. The sound is great, with good dynamics, and a homogeneous sound picture with nice sound balance.
Read more about Poems For Orchestra at Losen Records
Beth Gibbons – Symphony of Sorrowfull Songs
You almost lose your breath!
Henryk Gorecki's 3rd Symphony has become one of the gigantic works in contemporary music. But it hasn't always been that way. The symphony, which also goes by the name Symphony of Sorrowfull Songs, was premiered in 1977, and lived quite anonymously with the composer.
Until 1992 - when it was published by London Sifonietta, suddenly became very polar and ended up on everybody`s radar. And thus Gorecki became known as one of the great Polish contemporary composers. And most classic record collectors with a touch of contemporary ambitions have Gorecki's 3rd symphony in the collection.
But all those who think that they can thus leave the Symphony of Sorrowfull Songs behind and firmly look ahead now got bad news. With this new release, you have to reset. In November 2014, the even more famous composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki conducted the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra.
And although Penderecki's interpretation of the symphony is an interesting variation, it is not the interpretation that is exceptional with this recording, despite the fact that the introduction to the 1st movement is perhaps a bit more friction-filled than I am used to on most recordings.
But just over 12 minutes into the 1st movement it happens. Beth Gibbons - the vocalist who is even more famous for her participation in Portishead than her solo projects is emerging as the magical soprano in the symphony. And the magic is not that we suddenly get a dose of Portishead in the middle of Gorecki's masterpiece. It involves Beth Gibbons, with her vulnerable voice, performing this work as if it were the only or most important task she has in life. This is so beautiful that it can hardly be expressed in words!
Read more about Beth Gibbons - Symphony of Sorrowfull Songs
Lux - Nidaros Cathedral Girl Choir and Trondheim Soloists
Magical from Nidaros Cathedral
The opening work on this 2L release recorded in Nidaros Cathedral was composed by an old 2L acquaintance. Ståle Kleiberg is behind Hymn to Love, a beautiful work in which the Trondheim soloists contribute alongside the Nidarosdom's Girl Choir.
But it is still the English composer Andrew Smith's composition Requiem that is dominant, and the most exciting on the release. Smith moved to Norway in 1984, composing this mass of death to order from the choir. The mass is a very nice and exciting fusion between church music and jazz, where saxophonist Trygve Seim and keyboard player Ståle Storløkken have key roles. This is captivating music in a border terrain, in dual meaning. Breathtaking may be the term until I arrive at a fully comprehensive replacement in Norwegian.
The sound of Lux
The release is one of countless releases from 2L that come as a 2-disc solution with both hybrid SACD and Blu-ray. And it goes without saying that Bu-ray disc has tracks in 3D formats Dolby Atmos and Auro-3D. The sound is as usual from Morten Lindberg exceptional, with a violent dynamic, and otherwise very transparent sound.
Read more about Lux at 2L
Håkon Austbø - Maurice Ravel Complete Works for Piano Solo
A personal and strong interpretation of Ravel
My first musical meeting with Håkon Austbø was his recordings of Messian's music, and I have constantly noticed his ability to give something different and personal interpretations of the music he performs. His previous release on Simax - Chopin Now acknowledged that Chopin may have a different color from this dancing light performance, and yet be wonderfully beautiful.
And also on this complete collection of Maurice Ravel's solo piano music, there is a strong personal contribution from Håkon Austbø's page that makes me relive this music. It is a dark yet dreamlike veil over the music which is directly fascinating.
Looking back 12 years and Portuguese pianist Artur Pizarro's recordings of the same works on Linn Records that I wrote about in 2007 , this gives a completely different musical world. And the difference is ignored in that the release on Simax has a sound reproduction read with far greater presence, while the recordings on Linn Records were characterized by a bold extensive use of reverberation that masked the precision of the performance.
The sound of Ravel
The release is a double CD on Simax. The sound of this release is very good. As before, there is a right balance in the sound, and dynamism and openness are good.
Read more about Maurice Ravel Complete Works for Piano Solo
Karl Erik Sylthe
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