Emilia Mårtensson- Ana
(Babel BDV 14126 CD Review by Alison Bentley)
Ana is dedicated to singer Emilia Mårtensson’s Slovenian grandmother, and the CD is partly inspired by her grandparents’ emigration to Sweden. Mårtensson’s own musical journey continues into London, fusing jazz, Swedish folk and the work of singer-songwriters.
Her own song Ana has a Sam Crowe string arrangement as lush as Delius. (Most of the tracks have strings richly arranged by Rory Simmons, played by The Fable String Quartet: Kit Massey– violin, Paloma Deike– violin, Becky Hopkin– viola, Natalie Rozario– cello.) Mårtensson’s pure wordless vocals soar like Norma Winstone’s in Kenny Wheeler’s ensembles. Her lyrics are touching: ‘Eyes like mine, stories of a different kind, filled with memories of a country she left behind.’ Mårtensson’sMoffi’s Song is for her grandfather. (‘…still remembering a place where beauty is in everything…they leave their families for a Northern country breeze…’) As the voice merges with one of the violin lines, emerging from the tango feel, it’s gorgeous.
Moving to Sweden: När Som Jag Var På Mitt Adertonde År is a traditional folk ballad: a girl sings to her parents as she dies of unrequited love. The voice’s perfect intonation is enhanced by strong bass (Sam Lasserson) and singing hand drums from Brazilian Adriano Adewale. Vackra Manniska, written by Mårtensson in a traditional style, uses lovely digitally-created vocal harmonies in the manner of Imogen Heap.
Mårtensson moved to London to study at Trinity Laban, and compositions by young London-based songwriters feature on Ana. In Jamie Doe’s Harvest Moon, Barry Green’s expressive piano (he’s on most of the tracks) has arpeggios like a guitar, a Jarrett-like solo and spirited bass. There’s a gentle rock groove, but the use of percussion rather than drumkit leaves lots of space. Barnaby Keen’s Learnt From Love (For his parents: ‘I know about love- I learnt it from you.’) is threaded through with light-headed string glissandi. The song has a pop sensibility- you can imagine fans of Lianne la Havas enjoying it- as well as a jazzy freedom. Mårtensson loves Joni Mitchell, and in Tomorrow Can Wait, by Emine Pirhasen, there’s some early-Joni vocal phrasing; but Mårtensson’s voice is softer, breathier, with an affecting Swedish sibilance. Green’s piano is the perfect accompaniment (Mårtensson’s previous album was in tandem with Green) to the romantic lyrics and vocal harmonies: ‘I don’t want to sleep, no not tonight, tomorrow can wait.’
Mårtensson’s cover of Paul Simon’s Everything Put Together Falls Apart is bleaker than the original, less rueful, and Green follows every nuance of her phrasing, colla voce. Joe Henderson’s Black Narcissus has lyrics by Mårtensson, and chords exquisitely expanded for strings. It’s one of the jazziest pieces but keeps a folk delicacy, more like Mårtensson’s singing with the award-winning Kairos 4tet. It’s an album with a bewitching atmosphere, full of warmth and nostalgia; a jazz-folk blend, beautifully-sung and played.