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SINIKKA LANGELAND – THE LAND THAT IS NOT / ECM 2210                      player

I long for the land that is not
for I am weary of desiring all things that are.
The moon tells me in silver runes
about the land that is not.
the land where all our wishes
are wondrously fulfilled,
the land where all our chains fall away,
the land where we cool our gashed foreheads
in the moon’s dew.

  - Edith Södergran

Five years after her stunning ECM debut recording, here is a sequel with the same highly creative Norwegian-Finnish-Swedish personnel, once more engaged in adventures at the interstices of folk song, literature, and jazz-rooted improvisation, On “The Land That Is Not”, Norwegian singer and kantele player Sinikka Langeland builds upon the blueprint established with “Starflowers”. As the Irish Times’s Ray Comiskey noted of the earlier disc: “Sinikka Langeland is a gifted folk singer, but not one stifled by tradition. Her ability to work seamlessly with jazz musicians, as she does so memorably here, is part of the reason for the success of this marriage of folk, jazz and poetry. Individually and collectively, the quintet is superb, Henriksen and Seim play brilliantly off the voice and each other, while the group catches a variety of moods persuasively; they can groove with understated power”. All of which applies with equal pertinence to “The Land That Is Not”.

Indeed, the band is stronger now, the musicians having played concerts with Sinikka in the intervening years in diverse permutations and also strengthening their improvisational understanding with shared work in other contexts – Henriksen playing in Seim’s large ensemble, for instance, Seim and Ounaskari working together in Iro Haarla’s group, and so on, the circle of influence continuing to widen. And Anders Jormin, who has been Sinikka’s preferred bassist since the mid-1990s, also contributes as co-composer of two pieces here.

For their new quintet recording, Sinikka takes as her inspirational starting point poetry of Edith Södergran (1892-1923) and Olav Håkonson Hauge (1908-1994). Södergran, Swedish-speaking poet in Raivola, near St Petersburg, counts now as one of the pioneers of modernist Swedish poetry, but in a brief life terminated by tuberculosis lived to see little recognition for her work. “The Land That is Not” (“Landet som icke är”) was amongst her last poems, and has been compared to Chuang-Tzu’s “Homeland of Nothing Whatsoever”, a work of spiritual detachment, claiming its distance from the chaos of human society.
Södergran, isolated by circumstance, turned her loneliness to artistic advantage in her verse. The Norwegian Olav Håkonson Hauge, who similarly influenced a line of modern writers, was also a poet of solitude with an affinity for far eastern verse, and the way in which he can convey a landscape in a few words has some of the taut economy of the Zen poets. Hauge, who lived his whole life in Ulvik, supporting himself as a fruit farmer, began to publish poems in the 1940s. With both Södergran and Hauge, in the verses set to music here, there are thematic connections to Hans Børli, the lumberjack poet of the Norwegian forest, whom Sinikka celebrated on “Starflowers”. In these recordings independent voices answer to independent voices…and there is a freedom in the moments when Sinikka is alone and unaccompanied, just as there is in the group improvising that arises so naturally out of the song structures.

Born in 1961 in Finnskogen, Sinikka Langeland has been playing the kantele, the Finnish table harp, since the early 1980s when she began to expand her ‘folk’ repertoire to include rune songs, incantations, and old melodies from Finland and Karelia, as well as medieval ballads and religious songs. Recognising early on some affinities between the “sense of space and nature and timelessness” in new Nordic jazz improvisation and her own quest for a rooted original music incorporating folk elements, she has also remained alert to the characteristics that separate the genres, as she pointed out when “Starflowers” was released: “One of the central issues of working with jazz musicians as opposed to traditional folk musicians is the different feeling for time. The pulsations of the old folk music, the organic, breathing, asymmetric rhythms that we have in the polskas are quite different from modern popular music which is nearly all in 2 or 4. So a lot of adjustment is necessary. Anders Jormin is very aware of this, and Markku Ounaskari is coming closer and closer to the true pulsations of the polskas, remarkably close for a jazz player. But at the same time I want to allow myself to be influenced by his way of hearing and feeling the music”.

All participants have had ECM projects of their own since “Starflowers”. Markku Ounaskari recently issued “Kuára”, featuring his new trio with Samuli Mikkonen and Per Jørgensen in improvisations on Russian psalms and Fenno-Ugrian folk songs. Trygve Seim’s last disc was “Purcor” with pianist Andreas Utnem, cross-referencing improvised church music with folk music and theatre music. Arve Henriksen’s “Cartography” proposed an even broader map of moods and sounds, embracing everything from medieval song to sampling and sound-processing. Anders Jormin, meanwhile, has a newly-recorded project based around ancient Latin texts. Every one of these players has travelled quite some distance from conventional definitions of jazz tradition.

The third of her ECM releases, Sinikka’s “The Land that is Not” follows “Starflowers” (recorded 2006) and “Maria’s Song” (2008), the latter with Langeland in the company of two distinguished classical musicians, violist Lars Anders Tomter and organist Kåre Nordstoga, on a mission to restore Marian texts to sacred music, weaving folk melodies in between the timeless strains of Johann Sebastian Bach, and drawing on the Gospel of St Luke for her images of the Holy Mother. Like “Starflowers” well-received by the international press, “Maria’s Song” brought Langeland’s music to a new audience and was an Editor’s Choice selection in Classic FM magazine.

© Studio Svengali, December 2023
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