Daniel Herskedal ‘The Roc’ (Edition) 4/5

Who would have thought it? A quintet led by a tuba player with viola, cello, piano and percussion? This might on face value appear to be a tad too eclectic for their own good, but Edition Records have once again proved what a forward thinking and innovative label they are, with Norwegian Daniel Herskedal’s latest release, ‘The Roc’. Wonderful, inspired music can come in any form if it is led by a quality musician with a sense of compositional subtlety and a group of musicians with collective prowess and understanding. And so it is that this quintet successfully weave a web of intriguing, innovative sound, seamlessly fusing a unique mix of influences, from folk, jazz, classical and Arabic music. The resulting album is a delight to the ears, food for the soul and inspiration for the mind. Over the last couple of years, the trio of Daniel Herskedal, Helge Andreas Norbakken and Eyolf Dale, along with string players Bergmund Waal Skaslien and Svente Henryson, have defined themselves as one of the most innovative small ensembles in Europe today. The beauty of their music comes to life on ‘The Roc’, an album which has its roots in inspiring trips Herskedal made to Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. And indeed, the Middle Eastern influences throughout this album are strong, with the themes of place and travelling ever-present.

There is so much character, intensity and beauty to be heard here, that it is easy to grasp that Herskedal is a musician with a clear and bold vision. The richness of the music being performed and the sublime nature of it all, reflects a true understanding of how music and musicians should work together in a collaborative sense. And from the listener’s point of view, it just works, it just sounds right, as if it was always meant to be so.

The recording features ten original compositions, the titles of some originating from the names of scales (Kurd, Bayat, Nahawund To Kurd) and rhythms (Thuruuya) and others from Arabic sayings, one of which surely making for the best track title of the year so far; ‘There are three things you cannot hide, love, smoke and a man riding on a camel’.

From the dancing frivolity of the opener ‘Seeds of Language’, to the hauntingly beautiful ‘Eternal Sunshine Creates A Desert’, to the thought-provoking closing track ‘All That Has Happened As Fate Willed’, the playing from all five musicians, but especially the sublime, creative and intelligent playing from Herskedal himself, makes this session at times a joy to be behold. The arrangements are key to many of the tunes, with the band’s collective creativity shining like a beacon on a distant shore, spreading light across the misty waters.

I found this album to be a breath of fresh air. Maybe it’s a bit of a sweeping statement, but Scandinavian jazz certainly seems to continue to produce wonderful musicians with an incredible capacity to embrace their roots whilst pushing boundaries and musical genres to create some quite simply stunning music. Daniel Herskedal is most definitely one of those musicians leading the way.

Mike Gates