Daniel Herskedal – The Roc
(Edition Records. CD review by Henning Bolte)
A few years ago Norwegian tuba player Daniel Herskedal boarded a slow train which was to take him eastbound. And listening to his latest album Roc where he alternates between tuba and bass trumpet, one has the impression that the train is still rolling on, and that his journey on it continues. Roc, رخ (ruḵḵ), is the name of a gigantic bird from the tales of The Thousand and One Nights, a mythical figure. The roc is present in two tales involving Abd al-Rahman, and two involving Sinbad, the seafarer. The Venetian explorer Marco Polo also mentions the gigantic bird in his Book of Travels. The album can be considered as an in-depth musical travelogue wandering around places, legends, sayings, rhythms and maqamat, the Middle Eastern tonal spaces respectively melodic modes. A few names of those appear in the title of tracks 4 and 5. Herskedal does it all with a small but high profile and deeply attuned Norwegian-Swedish crew of two outstanding string players, Svante Henryson on cello and Bergmund Waalskaslien on viola, well-known pianist and label mate Eyolf Dale and percussion heavyweight Helge Andreas Norbakken, who recently joined Edition as well.
The tuba player might normally seem consigned a grounding, accompanying role. However a (growing) set of excellent European tuba players have surpassed this restricted role and have grown into a role of outstanding soloists, or even ensemble leaders. The names of Michel Godard, Oren Marshall, Michel Massot, Niels van Heertum, Kristian Tandvik come to mind,as do North American counterparts such as Howard Johnson, Joe Daly, Bob Stewart and Dave Bargeron. Daniel Herskedal is a force to be reckoned with in this context. With his oriental approach he follows in the footsteps of predecessors like 3 Mustaphas 3, L’Attirail, the Moroccan-Norwegian Siwan project of Amina Alaoui and Jon Balke and especially the music of Lebanese ûd master Rabih Abou-Khalil. In the music of Rabih Abou-Khalil which emerged in the early nineties the tuba (and serpent) of Michel Godard played a crucial role. Thus tuba plus strings and: percussion. The music of Rabih Abou-Khalil marked a turn-around and new perspective of the entanglement of elements and structures of oriental and occidental music, especially in its rhythmic foundation and the way it develops.
The lush tonal colours of The Roc, the solid interaction and the confluence of the dark brass and the strings – viola and bass trumpet, tuba and cello – within the orchestral arrangements are amazing and delicious. The second track, which gives the album its title, is already a high point coming in with a heavy deep groove, vigorous percussion and acute soloing. Through the whole album Herskedal counterbalances the dynamics in a masterful way. Wild and heavily firing pieces are followed by more legato, sparkling pieces. The Roc is followed by the long unfolding lines of the spatial and soulful Eternal Sunshine Creates A Desert. Brass and bowed strings flow together here brilliantly. Interestingly enough this is the most ‘Scandinavian sounding’ piece. Kurd, Bayat, Nahawand To Kurd, the next piece, starts with very light pizzicato on the viola and bass lines on the cello before the viola takes the lead with yearning lines. The two strings constantly switch to the unison backing lines thereby emulating the stretching and magnifying effect of oriental orchestras. Its open ending leads into two more deeply oriental pieces, Hijaz Train Station and Thurayya Railways. Hijaz Train Station starts from a mysterious bass drone permeated by blurred patches of higher tones resembling the sound of the oriental kemence fiddle. As it progresses, it evokes a deep miraculous space with an arcane shimmer on the horizon.
Thurayya Railways has both, a heavy and violently fluttering rhythm, made more effective by the piano alternating with yearning strings and brass. After that the demons are lurking in The Afrit. The Afrit or The Ifrit is a powerful winged demon of fire, born from blood. It is said to rise like a dark vapour from the blood of victims of murder. Hence the music is lugubrious here with an abrupt, sudden stop causing a silence that is broken by the rough cello intro of the next piece, There Are Three Things You Cannot Hide …. After a while it reveals as an Arabian tango. Followed by the lighter The Krøderen Line referring to a historic railway line 80 km west of Oslo at the Tyrifjord, the album concludes with the elegiac, cinematic All That Happened, Happened As Fate Willed.
The Roc is a deep and richly flavoured album that packs a punch.