Indicum is the seventh album from Bobo Stenson’s trio with double bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Jon Fält, a unit which has been active for over twenty years now.
In other contexts too, Jormin and Stenson played alongside Tony Oxley on the Tomasz Stanko albums Matka Joanna and Leosia (the latter being a personal favourite), while Fält played on Jormin’s Ad Lucem, released just a few months ago (all of these albums being recorded for ECM).
The closeness of the trio’s rapport is evident on the three improvisations that are sequenced within the album’s first five tracks. With the exception of two Jormin pieces, the remainder of its 78 minutes are devoted to an esoteric songbook of others’ compositions.
Stenson essays Bill Evans’s “Your Story” as a lyrical, evanescent miniature. “Ermutigung”, a protest song by East German exile and dissident folk balladeer Wolf Biermann, is interpreted formally, albeit with gracile radiance. Stenson’s piano solo here is paced exquisitely.
“Indikon” unfurls from a bass stem, and flowers in stop-motion percussives. It’s the first of the three improvised pieces. The next, the title track, is a fragment of tentative fragility, Jormin sounding his bass arco, like a viola, or even more subtly, beautifully, like a blown reed. On “Indigo”, he plucks out an intro to this concise trio improvisation of darkly brooding evanescence.
Jormin’s two original compositions are the intimate “December” and the relaxed, enigmatic “Sol”, the latter introduced with rich bowed bass and restless hands-on percussion. Jormin also co-arranged, with Sinikka Langeland, the traditional Norwegian “Ave Maria”, which has a distancing coldness about it. (I reviewed Langeland’s superb album The Land That Is Not, also on ECM and also featuring Jormin, for the Jazz Mann almost exactly a year ago.)
“La Peregrinación”, here given a relaxed and expansive treatment, was an early folk-influenced composition by the Argentine Ariel Ramírez, who died in 2010. On an album that’s studiously understated, it contrasts sharply with “Event VI”, adapted from George Russell’s Living Time suite. Here, the impressionistic percussion, and finely rendered textures of wood under stress of its introduction give way to a filmic, pseudo-orchestral treatment.
Denmark’s great composer Carl Nielsen penned “Tit er jeg glad” (“Oft Am I Glad”), which gets an appropriately uplifting, lyrical treatment here. But Jormin has saved the album’s most luminous performance for last.
Indicum ends with a composition by Ola Gjeilo. Twenty years Jormin’s junior, Gjeilo was born in Norway in 1978 but now resides in America. He originally conceived “Ubi Caritas” as a choral work, but earlier this year he also interpreted it as an improvised “fantasia” which has been highly praised. It’s a brave selection for Jormin then, but a perfect one.
It’s easy to be lulled by the subtlety and perfectionism of Indicum; but compare Jormin’s version of “Ubi Caritas” with Gjello’s original, and note how the warmth and ease of the former serves to emphasise the composition’s inherent, aching loveliness, giving it the edge.