Sinikka Langeland ‘Wolf Rune’ CD (ECM) 5/5

Norwegian musician Sinikka Langeland first recorded for the ECM label back in 2007 with her quintet album “Starflowers”. Since then, she has released several recordings, varying in style and instrumentation, and encompassing many aspects of world music, interweaving traditional folk music with contemporary jazz and classical idioms. Her 2015 release “The Half-Finished Heaven”, a suite of songs largely based around the mystery and joy of everyday encounters with animals in the forest, was a wonderful piece of Nordic melancholia.

“Wolf Rune” is the first solo outing in Langeland’s catalogue, shedding new light on the multifaceted work of the Norwegian folk singer and kantele player. Incorporating rune songs, spells and incantations, religious tunes and traditional folk dances, it’s fair to say that few artists embody the spirit of place as resolutely as Langeland, her musical interpretations, arrangements, original poems and songs, embodying the mysteries of Finnskogen, Norway’s ‘Finish Forest’, which has long been her home and inspirational source.

The kantele has been Finland’s national instrument for over 2000 years. In the right hands, it can sound astonishingly beautiful. Legends and myths abound as to the origination of the kantele, but I love the imagery from Finland’s national epic “Kalevala”, where the mage Vainamoinen makes the first kantele from the jawbone of a giant pike and a few hairs from Hiisi’s stallion, the music it makes drawing in all the forest creatures to wonder at its beauty. No wonder then that there appears to be something of a natural bond between Langeland and her instrument. Full of character and expression, Langeland plays three different kanteles on “Rune Song”, a traditional 5 string kantele, a gorgeous 15 string kantele, and the incredibly wondrous 39 string kantele. Whichever version of these instruments Langeland plays, the sound is spellbindingly beautiful.

Powerful imagery requires appropriate musical settings, and on “Wolf Rune” Langeland expands the range and reach of her instruments accordingly. Ancient tones can be heard here, as well as sonorities that take the kantele toward new expressive areas. This journey, from the archaic through the worlds of Nordic folk and into the realms of experimentation, are performed as instrumental and as sung pieces, Langeland’s voice echoing the tradition of the kantele with poem, prose and song, her stirring vocals a fine accompaniment to the atmosphere created with her kantele playing.

The “Kantele Prayer” pieces, performed on the 5 string kantele, have a haunting, timeless quality to them with a quaint, traditional nature, sparse and eloquent. But it is the multi-stringed instruments that really spark the imagination – in the performer and in this listener. The title track itself cascades through light and dark, Langeland’s voice almost meditative in a religiously monastic kind of way. Before too long her voice moves effortlessly into story-telling mode, with folk inflections rising to the surface. As I’m new to the wondrous sounds of the kantele, this, and other tracks on the album, make me think of Pat Metheny’s 42 string guitar. Maybe the sound of the kantele first gave Metheny the inspiration for that guitar, who knows. Many of the tunes journey across mesmerising landscapes, enticing me in with their organic, natural beauty. There’s a unique fascination, if not total engagement with tunes like “Moose Rune”, “The Eye of the Blue Whale” and “Row my Ocean”, but for me, the heart of this music is captured perfectly on 4 tracks in the middle of the recording. “When I Was The Forest” is crisp, engagingly melodic and deeply intriguing. “Winter Rune” is filled with deep emotion, fully aware and gorgeously lyrical, mystical, yet grounded in its captivating beauty. My senses are filled to the brim as I listen intently, completely spellbound at the stunning eloquence of “Don’t Come To Me With The Entire Truth”. Just when I think it’s impossible for things to continue in this vein, my heart skips a beat as I’m taken to another world with the sumptuous folk melodies of “The Girl In The Headlands”. Throughout the entire album, I feel like I’m being led on a magical journey, my inner self discovering new sights and sounds, whilst still feeling totally at home in my new surroundings.

I have listened over and over to these tunes and I can honestly say this has been a revelatory experience. I am totally hooked on the stunning sound of the kantele. In the hands (and mind, spirit, heart and soul) of Sinikka Langeland, I have discovered a musician totally at one with her instrument.

Mike Gates

Read also:
Sinikka Langeland with Trio Mediaeval and Arve Henriksen ‘The Magical Forest’ CD (ECM) 4/5
Sinikka Langeland ‘The Half-Finished Heaven’ CD (ECM) 4/5