The Cool and Ethereal Nordic Light

From Denmark, the Crush String Collective with their Aeriform (BARKHAUSEN RECORDINGS BHR003LP) record. Three cellos, two violas and two violins by talented musicians who are classically trained, but making a virtue of “breaking with the strict classical framework” with these 12 short improvisations. It’s not just about free playing, it’s also about introducing a “non-hierarchical structure” to the performing area, something which has long been a bugbear and bone of contention amongst free players who perceive the classical orchestra with its conductor and score as one of the most inflexible and hierarchical things you can get, some extremists even viewing it as a form of social control or a model of larger power structures, such as government or business. In their music, Crush String Collective are drawing their inspiration from the weather, the sky, the dramatic changing light that you get in the Scandinavian zones, and attempting to express something about the cycle of life itself, even bringing in a non-specific spiritual ambience with suggestions of sun-worshipping rituals. The group are capable of grand, widescreen sweeps and endless vistas of this horizonless view which they propose, as well as exploring its more intimate nooks with delicate and detailed small sounds. They hope that their listeners will enjoy the encounter with the somewhat “vulnerable” sound of their delicate acoustic instruments, yet also savour the powerful effects of the shared music; they call this encounter a “crush”, hence their name. It so happens that all seven players are women, a fact which isn’t stressed overmuch in their publicity, but they are bringing a lot of nuance and compassion to their music, and there’s a notable absence of any sort of masculinist aggression. (03/03/2022)

French pianist Melaine Dalibert plays eight short pieces on his Shimmering (ICI D’AILLEURS MT14), following a number of recent-ish releases on the American Elsewhere label and one for Another Timbre. The piano is I think sometimes enhanced with studio echo or delicate synth washes to add to the general mood, a mood which is rather wistful and occasionally informed by spiritual moments of inner peace and solitude, as implied by the titles ‘Prayer’ and ‘Mantra’. It’s possible Dalibert is aiming for a very contemporary take on modern classical, one that extends conventional chamber music into areas already colonised by ambient. Can’t fault his execution as he plays these delicate miniatures with deliberation, precision, and care, the simplicity of the music with its user-friendly patterns makes it all very accessible, and the overall sensation is quite calming. But I can’t shake off the slightly sentimental and overly-romantic side to his music, which sometimes leads him down a saccharine path. Released as part of the “Mind Travel Series” on this label; didn’t this series used to be a lot more challenging and surrealistic? (03/03/2022)

Norwegian trio Slagr propose an alternative to modern living with its smartphones and social media barrage, and get back to ancient folk forms and traditions in their music, and also like to offer the listener a place for reflection. More precisely, they simply wish to open a doorway and invite us to make these new associations, without insisting that we enter their world. Cellist Katrine Schiott has come our way previously on the 2015 Anthropocene album by Platform, and the other players are Amund Sjolie Sveen who plays the vibraphone and tuned glasses (the glass harmonica perhaps). Lastly there’s Anne Hytta playing the traditional hardanger fiddle, an instrument also embraced by Nils Økland and Sarah-Jane Summers; it’s this instrument, with its “rough vibrations”, which probably represents the connection to the “ancient craft” which they wish to respect, since the hardanger is regarded as Norway’s national folk instrument; the earliest known instrument of this make is from the 17th century, but I expect the musical traditions it embodies are older than that. Today’s album Linde (HUBRO HUBROCD2654) is impressive for the combination of rather unusual sounds – the contrast between the groaning of the lower-register strings and the high notes of the vibraphone is something to savour – and the tone of forlorn longing in these slow, wistful instrumentals. (03/03/2022)