Nordic Circles ‘Under The Clouds’ (AMP Music & Records) 3/5

This has all the feel of an ECM recording and little wonder since it was mixed at Rainbow studios in Oslo by Jan-Erik Kongshaug. Unlike their previous release which was all instrumental and included the trumpet playing of Tore Johansen, this new recording departs somewhat in two respects. The pieces are a good deal shorter, with seven out of the nine compositions weighing in at between three and five minutes. Secondly, there is a prominent vocal contribution this time round, with a vocalist, Siril Malmedal Hauge, featuring on no less than six tracks and with former pianist Helge Lien replaced by Lars Jansson. Produced by drummer Anders Thorén, the music has a classic Scandinavian noir feel, but from this writer’s perspective, the pieces could have been a good deal longer with more instrumental numbers as was heard to good effect on the well received previous recording, ‘Winter Rainbow’. This shortcoming is typified by the opener and title track that has a classic sounding ECM ambiance in bass and drums, with even a hint of Jan Garbarek on the saxophone, yet is all too brief. Of the vocal numbers, the English language lyrics and sensitive accompaniment to, ‘A beautiful smile’, make this song stand out from the rest. Wordless vocals combine with lovely bass line and piano riff on the optimistic sounding, ‘Orvieto’, in keeping, perhaps, with its Latin-flavoured title and pseudo-bossa beat. Those songs sung in Norwegian are pleasant, if unassuming. Maybe in future, a separate project for singer Huage would be in order, but this writer for one yearns for the instrumental focus of Nordic Circles to return.

Tim Stenhouse