Review: Daniel Herskedal and Marius Neset – Neck of the Woods – released Aug 2012

I was wondering how to sum up the feelings prompted in me by this interesting new album.  On Twitter I posted one word – sublime.  I think I have another three words inspired by Shakespeare ” …a dying fall”.    If you never knew what that meant, then listen to this album and you may find they make sense. This album is the latest from the Edition mine of beautiful music. The cover is lovely, the CD itself is a work of art with delicate snowy patterns on it.  Norwegians Daniel Herskedal on tuba and Marius Neset on saxophones are supported by the Svanholm Singers from Sweden.  This is not just everyday Scandinavian melancholy, no there’s humour and playfulness here, wistfulness and peace within its forty minutes.  It creates a very special mood, not one to easily classify, not least because of the unusual pairing of instruments.  I think it will grow on you.  Most of the compositions are by Daniel except for The Wedding by Abdullah Ibrahim.

Marius literally blew us off our feet last year with his Golden Xplosion tour and album. He’s spellbinding in performance, you can feel heat, there is so much energy in the room emanating from him.   His saxophone seems to float, it’s a living thing almost.  I recently saw him at Pizza Express where he surprised even himself at the tempo he played City on Fire, blisteringly fast.  I also saw him at St Georges Brandon Hill (see my review of Dave Stapleton’s Flight) where he revelled in the perfect acoustic.  But it’s not just technique or virtuosity you remember with Marius, it’s passion and fire, the sheer joy of performance.

The first and title track Neck of the Woods will leave you spellbound,  Marius and Daniel have created a piece of heartbreaking beauty.  The gorgeous swoops of Marius’s sax, the feather-light tuba supporting it, the voices, some subtle electronics – they all work together.

Eg er Framand shows off the beautiful solo voice of Hallvar Djupvik.  If I can trust an online translation of this song it is “I am a pilgrim who will stay only one night here. I seek the City of God where sorrow & death are no more. Dear Lord, lead me to Heaven’s shore.”   So I feel a bit more comfortable with my initial impression of this album, it is a bit melancholy and full of lamentation.

But it’s balanced by some pastoralism and the magic we heard on Golden Xplosion’s Angel of the North (about a fjord) we hear on this album.  If Golden Xplosion was urban, then this album is pure Norwegian fjord.   The light, clear voices of the choir add to the feeling of space, coolness and echo.  The Christmas Song’s haunting melody will be part of my Christmas from now on. If I need snow and moonlight on Christmas Eve, here it is in this charming composition by Daniel.

The final track, The Wedding by Abdullah Ibrahim, is played so delicately and ends so gently, you wonder if you are dreaming.   Here is the dying fall I started with, it just floats off into the distance, leaving you to savour a very pleasant feeling of Scandinavian melancholy.

Neck of the Woods - Daniel Herskedal & Marius Neset

You can see Marius and Daniel at the Edition Records Festival at Kings Place on Sunday 16 September 2012 at 2pm. I cannot wait!

You can also see them at St Georges Brandon Hill on 17 September and at Dempseys in Cardiff on 18 September (supporting Asaf Sirkis).

Review: Simcock/Garland/Sirkis – Lighthouse at Brecon Jazz Festival 11 August 2012

There was a real buzz of excitement at the Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon, it was Saturday night and Lighthouse were up against the men’s 5000m race at the Olympic Stadium!  Lighthouse are a super-group comprising Tim Garland on various reeds, Gwilym Simcock on piano and Asaf Sirkis on percussion.  In their 75 minutes set we were treated to most of the album called Lighthouse (released earlier this year, celebrating their signing to ACT) and some old and new material.

What’s different about Lighthouse? Well, no bass for a start. And a fascinating drum kit for Asaf to conjure delightful sounds out of.   Not just a hang, but tiny cymbals, tambourines played like drums, tinkly bells and an earthenware instrument called an udu which looks like the moroccan tagine you might cook in.  Asaf plays the hang in the orthodox way with his fingers (not the Portico Quartet way) and in his hands it becomes a magical thing, the sound floating around the theatre, lingering in our memories still longer.   His extended solo on ‘King Barolo’ was a delight. We hear his interest in Indian rhythms, his pleasure in playing is captivating.

Here’s their genius, ‘One morning’ is a hymn to a new saxophone and a lament for a lost friend. It manages to be both wistful and celebratory at the same time.  Tim’s sax is at its most silky on ‘King Barolo’.  He played bass clarinet on the Spanish-influenced ‘Bajo del Sol’, Asaf’s drums reminding me of leopard running across a savannah.

It’s always a delight to listen to Gwilym’s light touch, especially evident in the thoughtful ‘The Wind on the Water’.  He manages to play a lot of notes without it sounding cluttered or heavy. He reminds me a little of John Taylor, with his delicacy, space and pastoral calm. I would say “Englishness” but Gwilym is, of course, Welsh.

The new tracks were ‘Empires’ by Gwilym and an amusing piece called ‘Accidental Tango’.  ‘Empires’ contained very dense layers of sound and different textures broken by delicate plucking of the piano strings. Tim told us that Astor Piazzolla described the best tempo for a tango as like someone standing behind you with a knife. With that scarey thought in mind the artists tried to trip each other up with abrupt stops and starts in ‘Accidental Tango’.   Like mind-readers they did not falter, they are a supergroup after all. At one stage all three artists were playing percussion and enjoying it immensely.

There are two tracks that I think are crying out for release as vinyl singles (if ACT does such a popular thing?). They are ‘Space Junk’ with its heavy insistent nightclub-like beat and the danceable ‘King Barolo’ with instantly memorable tune picked out by the hang.  I feel very strongly that tunes are important in engaging an audience and maybe a younger one.  As Branford Marsalis puts it in a recent Jazzwise article (Aug 2012) “the audience is not interested in doing extra homework to appreciate a jazz concert”.  So tunes and a strong beat are a way in.  Space Junk quickly leaves clubbing behind with its jaunty haunting melodica (a harmonica-like instrument, the sound we love on Asaf’s ‘Other Stars and Planets’). It opens the album and gets you in the mood for all the surprises to come.

The sound mixing at Theatr Brycheiniog was perfect and appreciated by artists and audience.    If I have one tiny reservation about them, it is to wonder why there is no material by Asaf in their repertoire?

And did they take our minds off the 5000m race? Well yes they did, until we got home!