I’m sitting on a rocky outcrop, overlooking a distant, hazy valley; contemplating, waiting for the sun to rise. As the deep blue hues of the Northern sky begin to lighten, I look below as a half-hidden landscape gradually reveals itself. Gently frozen lakes, shimmering trees, long, angular rocks, all peaceful and stately in their serenity. And as I sit, in reflective pose, thinking of someone who holds a very special place within my heart, my soul awakens as I see the first sparks of sunlight break from the horizon. And very quickly, as if a miracle is taking place, magnificent shafts of light the colour of my heart, race toward me, lighting up the majestic landscape in front of my eyes. The day is new. The time is now. And I am alive. Every inch of my body feels the gentle, caressing breeze, my senses heightened as mind, body and spirit become one with everything that is. These are my thoughts as I listen intently to Kenneth Dahl Knudsen Orchestra’s “We’ll Meet In The Rain”, a stunningly beautiful and evocative album. Powerful, emotional, intense and richly rewarding, this music is all of these things….and more.
Bassist/composer Knudsen was born and raised in Denmark, and as is often the case in life, it was on returning from a time away from his homeland that he first found inspiration for this album; “It seems like all the music I’ve written for this album, is basically soundtracks to the thoughts of my mind.” He continues; “There is always a story or a person on my mind when I compose for this orchestra… I’ll walk around with that thought on my mind for some time, and make it evolve into musical ideas in my head, before I even touch the piano.”
One of the first things that strikes me about this music, is its naturalness. There is such an open, honest feel to it, that the listener actually senses the composer’s thoughts and intentions whilst listening. There is a breathtaking beauty to it, provided not only by the skill of the composer’s writing, but also by the strength and poignance in the way it is performed. The orchestra features 19 of Europe’s best young improvisers, all up and coming musicians in their own right. It is essentially a jazz orchestra, conducted by Malte Schiller, and also featuring the wonderful vocals of Marie Seferian. Each piece of music weaves its own magical tale; a spellbinding combination of jazz, folk and classical music. What does stand out a country mile is the importance to the writer of Danish folk music traditions. I asked the composer if he felt this was as important to him as his jazz influences; “Yes for sure. I mean, the jazz is important because that’s the area of work I’m in. But it’s not me. It’s just what I’ve learned. I’ve been playing jazz for 15 years, but I was born into this part of the world where the music is simple, epic and very, very beautiful. It’s a folk tradition here, and I like it more and more every day, as I mature.” I went on to ask him about who, if anyone in particular has influenced him musically over the years, and I think his response sums up well his open-minded attitude, one which has obviously helped him develop his music in such a way as to make writing this beautiful album possible; as a musician yes, but essentially as a human being; “I’ve always liked the players that can create some tension and release. I like players that can bring out a lot of emotions. For example, a guy like Gilad Hekselman. I did 2 albums with him. For bass players I like Pattitucci, Colley, Mcbride and a guy called Renaud Garcia Fons, a very inspiring musician. In general I think I just try to soak up all the inspiration I get through travels and music, whether it’s in Europe, The US, South America or Japan. To me music is music and people are people. And it changes all the time and that’s totally OK. I mean, jazz is only about 100 years old. Let’s not put ourselves into boxes all the time.”
“We’ll Meet In The Rain” begins with “Light Unfolds”, with its beautiful opening suggesting “first encounters” as the composer puts it, “and thinking back on them and reflecting about the outcome as a learning experience and joy.” The tune’s welcoming intro soon develops into a magical celebration of life, love and friendship, as Seferian’s vocal melodies turn the glimpses of light into a raging, passionate sunrise for all the earth to enjoy. The level of musicianship throughout is excellent, with some of the solos, especially on sax and trumpet, simply spellbinding. There’s a youthful energy that comes across in the music, one which often surprises and delights. There is a sensitive romanticism to Knudsen’s writing, yet this often manifests itself as if in a passionate embrace. On “Krig og Kaerlighed”‘ inspired by the composer’s chance meeting with a group of Syrian refugees, we get a clear understanding of what he refers to as “tension and release”, with the rising and falling of the music, gripping and intense, before letting go. Brilliant sax and trumpets intertwine as the tune reaches fever pitch. The funkier “Dapo” uses folk traditions in a stunning way, to take us on a wonderful journey, exploring thoughts and themes, based on the bassist’s friendship with a Nigerian musician whilst spending time in Berlin. There’s a much more reflective nature to “The Camera Man”, the orchestral strings and voice combining to create one of the most wonderful pieces of music you will hear this year. “A Merry Song”, with its Garbarek/ECM – like musical colours and textures, sweeps the listener up in its depth of emotion. Knudsen wrote the melody when his mother became ill, and one can hear the love shining out from the music being performed. As the composer says; “from sadness and suffering, to joy and a celebration of life…” Knudsen refers to his country’s folk music traditions as being “simple and very, very beautiful”, and this is perfectly captured on “Mettelody”, a tune without an ending… If seeing the positives is a gift in a person, Knudson has that gift, with the upbeat “Victoria’s World” having been written to celebrate the life of his autistic niece, Victoria. An incredibly uplifting piece of music. The title track, “We’ll Meet In The Rain” is perhaps best explained by the composer himself; “You will cross paths with a lot of people in your life. Some for a short time, and some for life… You’ll meet these people in different ways, but most of them, through other people. Like the drops of rain running down a window, meeting new drops, splitting into new groups, forming beautiful patterns.” His words are almost as beautiful as his music. A common theme through the whole album is the composer’s wonderful, sensitive arrangements, bringing the best out of the musicians in a way that shows such maturity and musical intelligence. The final track “Tucked In”, a piece that teeters on the brink for so long, hanging on the thread of a single, soulful piano note, gradually builds until eventually leading the listener into the essence of what this music is all about… With stirring emotion the temperature rises until it explodes from within into a wonderful life of its own, like a first kiss, like seeing a baby being born, like being reunited with long-lost parents… whichever way one chooses to describe it, this is a moving, life-affirming piece of music. A fitting end to an incredible album.
It’s rare to hear an album that takes the listener on an emotional journey such as “We’ll Meet In The Rain” does. This will undoubtedly be one of my album’s of the year, and I emplore you to go and buy it now. It is only a limited edition release, so don’t hang around. Kenneth Dahl Knudsen’s music has enriched my life and for that I simply and sincerely say “thank you”. It is a pleasure to have experienced this music, one which continues to grow with every listen.