Sinikka Langeland ‘The Half-Finished Heaven’ (ECM) 4/5

sinikka-langelandThe folk traditions of Norway and Finland combined are rarely heard outside Scandinavia and therefore this new recording significantly enhances our understanding of the music with vocalist and kantele (a triangular plucked string instrument) player Sinikka Langeland adding to her previous ECM leader release from 2011, ‘The land that is not’. In fact throughout connoisseurs of the various Celtic traditions will find much in common here and quite possibly old Norse for scholars of the field. Recorded in the midst of January 2013, the music has a mournful winter feel and makes for compulsive late evening listening to reflect upon. Musical partner Lars Anders Tomter makes a major contribution on viola, yet it is the combination of folk instrumentation with jazz saxophone that marks this album out as a subtle dislocation from the norm and this is beautifully illustrated on the instrumental ‘The magical bird’ with a tenor solo from Trygve Seim that could just as easily have come from Jan Garbarek. In general the pieces are quite short, but there is nonetheless a great deal to admire and take in with a nursery rhyme quality to some of the vocal numbers such as ‘The tree and the sky’ where viola and piano work in perfect harmony. On other songs an epic film soundtrack is conjured up as on ‘The light streams in’ which to this writer hints at Sibelius’ ‘Finlandia’. Nothing at all is rushed about this recording and everything fits into place logically with individual group members willing to subsume their own virtuosity into a collective whole.When they are all singing from the same hymn musical hymn sheet, the results can be sublime with the gentle instrumental ‘The winter burden’ one of a series of outstanding pieces. Bilingual lyrics in English and Norwegian help the listener to navigate the richness of the lexicon of words offered up.

Tim Stenhouse