Ad Lucem is an inspired recording by a band that first came together to perform a commissioned work for a Swedish festival. Not the most auspicious of beginnings perhaps, but this album, Jormin’s third as leader for ECM, is a refinement of that project.
Bandleader and composer Anders Jormin has a long association with ECM. He played alongside pianist Bobo Stenson and the late drummer Tony Oxley on Tomasz Stanko’s run of late 90s titles that included the stone classic Leosia. Alongside bassist Jon Fält he now forms the rhythm partnership in the Bobo Stenson Trio. He also contributed to the marvellous Sinikka Langeland album The Land That is Not (which I reviewed for The Jazz Mann), which has loose stylistic affinities with Ad Lucem.
Completing the trio at the heart of this recording is reedsman Fredrik Ljungkvist, a founder member of powerhouse Scandinavian jazz quintet Atomic.
Although Ad Lucem isn’t a standard jazz date, rather a song-cycle, with two featured vocalists and texts sung mostly in Latin, the rapport between the instrumental players is superbly expressive, their playing subtly nuanced yet imbued with the freewheeling spirit of improvisation.
“Hic et Nunc” begins the album with the voices of Miriam Wallentin and Erika Angell initially closely harmonised, but Wallentin’s first solo foray to the accompaniment of Jon Fält’s steady, simple bass drum pulse sounds not unlike Wallentin’s work with her husband, drummer Andreas Wallentin (also of Fire! and Tonbrucket), in Wildbirds & Peacedrums.
Angell usually sings with Thus:Owls and electro-improv duo The Moth. To Ad Lucem she brings a gentler, folksier edge to Wallentin’s bolder, more theatrical vocal style. The way she counterpoints Wallentin on “Lux” is particularly beguiling.
Both singers have the rigor and vocal flexibility to respond adroitly to their accompanists; witness both “Clamor” and the following agitated and aphoristic “Vigor”, on which the vocals are wordless.
The lyrics are primarily in Latin, which Jormin has said he believes imparts a “sense of eternity and mystery” to his music which, when “joined with the instantaneous presence and creativity of true improvisers” brings his compositions alive. “Inter Semper et Nunquam” is an exception, its lyric being taken from the poetry of Denmark’s Pia Tafdrup; “Vox Animæ”, sung in English, is another.
It would be wrong to place too much emphasis here on this album as song-cycle. Its essence resides in the refined interactions of the jazz trio at its core.
Beginning with a sprightly bass vamp and initially fairly direct, “Vox Animæ” has an impressionistic interlude with wordless vocal extemporisations interwoven with bowed bass and tight, light reeds. Then there is the gorgeous bass feature for Jormin, and a sympathetically granulose bass clarinet solo from Fredrik Ljungkvist. “Clamor”, by contrast, begins as a chamber jazz trio instrumental, and when the pace picks up with the vocalists’ entry Ljungkvist plays a long avian tenor solo.
“Lux” becomes something of a showcase for Jormin, who follows a long pizzicato solo with a bowed passage in close empathy duet with Ljungkvist’s clarinet. “Cæruleus”, meanwhile, has some wonderfully knotty trio interaction, the rhythm section generating real heat from the friction and Ljungkvist, now on tenor, sounding out like Archie Shepp. A closing vocal fragment, “Matutinum-Clausula” comes as an effective contrast which underscores the stylistic breadth and cohesion of this most original and superbly realised album.
Other ECM albums reviewed on DAlston Sound
Billy Hart: All Our Reasons
Tim Berne: Snakeoil
Tord Gustavsen Quartet: The Well
Andy Sheppard, Michel Benita, Sebastian Rochford: Trio Libero
Keith Jarrett: Rio