This is Langeland’s 11th solo album and seventh on ECM (her work has also appeared on Grappa and Heilo labels). I first became aware of her with 2016’s The Magical Forest (on ECM) with Arve Henriksen, Trygve Seim, Anders Jormin, Markku Ounaskari and Trio Mediæval. This time out she is joined by an all Norwegian all star cast including Mathias Eick on trumpet, Trygve Seim on saxophone, Mats Eilertsen on bass and Thomas Strønen on drums. They’ve all worked with each other in overlapping ways, and all are well versed in Langeland’s style of genre-defying Nordic folk jazz, which leads to a lot of intuitive interplay.
Langeland, half-Finnish but a native of Norway, is known as a folk musician, player of the Finnish and Karelian zither known as kantele, and singer in the “runesanger” and traditional “kveding” styles. She has received numerous awards and collaborated with a wide range of musicians from traditional folk, classical, jazz and experimental music fields as well as dance and visual arts. Many of her albums have centered on the culture of Finnskogen, the “Forest of the Finns” on Norway’s border with Sweden, and have featured mythological themes, Finnish rune songs, or works by traditional poets (Hans Børli, Edith Södergran, Olav Håkonson Hauge). But on Wind And Sun she turns turns to the contemporary Norwegian playwright and poet Jon Fosse, whose poetry resonates with Langeland’s fascination with natural mysticism.
Although Langeland leans into mysticism, it isn’t a wispy sort of mysticism. Her vocal instrument is a powerful one, capable of holding its own with Seim and Eick on their brassy horns. On Wind and Sun Langeland has created arrangements that illuminate Fosse’s poems through her stunning, often minimalist vocals and kantele, and her sensitive ensemble fleshes out those arrangements in amazing accord with her and one another.
I first noted the way the arrangements match the topic in the third track “It Walks And Walks,” a superb arrangement founded on a walking bass line from Eilertsen, over which Langeland’s vocals and the horns play with a melody that sometimes plods with the bass and sometimes stretches the meter. Color and texture come from Strønen’s sensitive drumming, and Langeland’s lightly plucked kantele that somehow sounds like a chiming steel guitar. Pensive, reverent and life-observant, the song rides a line between art song, folksong, and jazz improvization. It all beautifully matches the text, which addresses the linear and yet somehow cyclical nature of life: “… everything walks and walks / the dead who are gone / the dead who are only almost gone / and everything that exists / it walks and walks … ”
There’s a certain sameness to the pacing and meter here – of necessity. You’re not going to set Fosse’s earthy, groundedly spiritual verses to a lilting waltz time or a playful 6/8, much less an uneven 7/8 or 11/16! The variety comes in subtle touches: Langeland’s choices of melody and dymanics, the way the horns play in delicious modern harmony on one tune (“Hands That Held”), neo-Baroque counterpoint on another, the occasional interjection of mournful dignity from the harmonium, the drummer’s martial booming bass drum or delicately brushed cymbals, the bassist’s choice of walking lines or creamy arco (“Row My Ocean”).
The booklet contains the text of Fosse’s poems in Norwegian and English (translated by May Brit Akerholt). They reveal a spirituality that’s solidly based on creation – cosmos and air, land and sea, animals and people. All of the tracks feature vocals with the exception of the alternate instrumental take on the title track “Wind And Sun.” The arrangement and improvizations lean into the onomatpoeic – bass strings thrumming like wind in the rigging of a tall ship, horns sighing and wailing, cymbals tinkling and plashing like waves, the keening of the kantele and harmonium fading in and out.