Cecilie Strange ‘Blikan’ LP/CD (April) 4/5

“Blikan” is an Icelandic word derived from the old Saxon language, meaning “to shine” or “to appear”. It’s the first time I’ve heard Danish saxophonist Cecilie Strange, and her playing certainly befits the album’s title, as she magically weaves an ethereal tapestry of breathy, soulful, incandescent music.

Strange grew up in a musical home and she began playing the saxophone at the age of twelve. She went on to study music in the Danish city of Odense with the great jazz saxophonist Hans Ulrik and in New York with top saxophonist Chris Cheek, and her deep and soulful tenor sound has gained international acclaim. As for me, just discovering her as an artist, I have to say her tone and her style of playing absolutely blow me away. There’s a hushed yearning and such an effortlessly emotive sense of beauty to her playing that leaves me mesmerised and spellbound.

“Blikan” is the saxophonist’s third solo album, hot on the heels of her 2020 release “Blue”. Making up her quartet are pianist Peter Rosendal, bassist Thommy Andersson, and drummer Jacob Høyer. Together they are an extremely cohesive quartet, despite the incredibly short amount of time they’ve been performing together. They seem to be acutely attuned to one another’s playing, with a sense of understated discovery prevailing through this whole session. A sincere, achingly melancholic palette of sound manages to somehow radiate hope and light, despite its slow, downbeat nature.

The album opener “Eudaimonia” is perhaps the strongest tune of this recording. Its Scandinavian folk melody is beautifully melodic and mouth-wateringly immersive. It also shares a slightly whimsical nature with a memorable album by Brad Mehldau; “Highway Rider”, Rosendal’s lilting piano echoing the feelings evoked from listening to Mehldau’s masterful musings. Strange’s sax playing has a timeless sincerity to it that most players could forever be striving for. It goes beyond touching my heart, it’s somehow deeper than that… flowing through me like life itself.

Everything here is unhurried. I like that, but there are times where an infusion of out-bound energy wouldn’t come amiss. An occasional change of pace. Inwardly, the music is enigmatic. “The Clearing” illuminates its surroundings, the rhythm section combining brilliantly as Strange’s sax soars. “The Dance” is more conversational; music that mirrors people cautiously checking each other out, finding it difficult to connect. I love the delicate nature of “When Sunny Smiles”, with its shafts of light welcoming an old friend out of the shadows, bringing fondness and warmth, like distant memories that spark thoughtful reminiscence. “Wild Flower” feels surprisingly dark, eery even, its gradual build giving just a semblance of relief. And yet it is strangely somehow spiritual, as if an awakening is taking place. The final track, “Jag vet en dejlig rosa” reminds me a little of an Andy Sheppard piece, with its sparse, percussive, engrossing ECM vibe.

On this evidence, there is much more to come from Cecilie Strange and I can’t wait to hear the music she makes and the different directions she might take in the future. Naturally talented, gifted, original musicians don’t come along that often, and she should have a stunning career ahead of her. Of course, it’s never that simple, we all should know that, but there is something special about her that I hope carries her forward into a long and successful career. In the meantime, I’ll be very happy to let “Blikan” serenade me for a good while longer.

Mike Gates