Sinikka Langeland with Trio Mediaeval and Arve Henriksen ‘The Magical Forest’ (ECM) 4/5

langeland-mediaeval-henriksenCombining folk and jazz elements has been something of an ECM speciality over the years and on this occasion it is the art of singing poetry with a strong does of instrumental improvisation that transports the listener into hitherto unknown territory and is ceratinly evocative of a byegone era. Norwegian Sinikka Langeland is both a singer and practitioner of the Finnish table-harp the kantele, an instrument that has a meditational quality and even some echoes of Alice Coltrane on the conventional western harp, and the overall feel is that of a pan-Scandinavian folk sound that blends in improvisational music. The piercing female vocals and collective harmonies on ‘Jacob’s dream’ impress, with brooding interplay between the saxophone of Trygne Seim trumpeter Arve Henriksen, with Langeland adding a new layer on the kantele. A times here there are hints of the Hilliard Ensemble, but there is a jazzier edge on some pieces as on,’Sammas’ (Forest Finns)’, with Miles-esque tones from Henriksen. The successful crossing of genres is illustrated on the opener, ‘Puun Loitsu (Prayer to the tree Goddess)’ with sparse instrumentation and lovely vocal harmonies in abundance.
Like other Scandinavian singers who have discovered the roots of their folk music tradition, Langeland studied for a degree in musicology and has used that as the stepping stone to further exploration, and has not been afraid to marry sounds of the past with more contemporary musical influences, most notably jazz. With a group that includes Finns and Swedes as well as fellow Norwegians, Sinkka Langeland has managed to create a sound that straddles national traditions, and yet still comes across as authentic. Previous ECM releases date back to a 2002 collaboratino with Henriksen, ‘Runoja’, a 2006 recording, ‘Starflowers’, and more recently a 2010 album, ‘The land that is not’. Bi-lingual lyrics in the inner sleeve help and are supplemented by striking black and white photos of the instrumentalists and Trio Mediaeval members.

Tim Stenhouse