CD reviews

Ellen Andrea Wang – “Closeness”

Ellen Andrea Wang – Closeness (release 18 September 2020) (Ropeadope Records. CD review by Rob Mallows)  This third solo album by Norwegian bassist and singer Ellen Andrea Wang shows a maturity linked – one suspects – to her becoming a new mother and finding new inspiration therein, as suggested by the cover photo. With success in the now defunct Pixel, her Gurls trio and studio work with Sting, Manu Katché and Marilyn Mazur, it’s no surprise to see such growth, but this new album really shows Wang shifting into a higher gear, thanks in part to the sterling support offered by Rob Luft on guitar and Jon Fält on drums and percussion. Erasmus starts with Luft’s sustained harmonic chords opening into a guitar/bass conversation on which he demonstrates why he’s such hot property, and Wang’s soloing is economic but rich. This track creeps up on you from behind and delivers a stout – but pleasurable – blow to the head, before applying a cold compress in the last two minutes. Second track Closeness is delicate musical filigree, the shuffling drums by Fält making this track work. Wang offers very little embellishment over Luft’s sparse playing, his held notes tolling in the audio stillness to calm the soul. Nobody Knows starts with an almost southern African metre in Luft’s fast descending picked motif. The track is a superb platform for Wang’s sibilant-rich, glacier-pure vocals: her precision pronunciation is spine-chillingly beautiful. This is music as ASMR-therapy. On Strange Flower, Luft’s lightning-quick lefthand prevails, boosted by luscious use of delay. Nightfall in contrast is quiet, the only thing stirring is Wang and her bass as she picks out a quiet opening refrain. Luft and Fält creep in, developing the tune over Wang’s temperate bass to great effect. With Waiting for Ellinor, Wang vocalises in long, dreamy sequences that condense like breath in the Arctic atmosphere: ephemeral but striking. Fält keeps things super interesting with all sorts of percussive meanderings. Only two minutes, but a lovely tune. Recognise, another ballad, has Luft squeezing every ounce of goodness from each note. The Ornette Coleman track Lonely Woman is audio heaven: every intake of breath, every muscle twitch, every lip quiver is beautifully captured by engineer David Alexksander Sjøle who has realised the sparse beauty of a frozen lake. David Bowie and Pat Metheny’s This is not America is handled well, Wang providing a fresh vocal feel while Luft swoops like a summer swallow, soaring splendidly on the musical thermals. On Silence, in contrast, little happens, but it happens brilliantly as Luft delivers his best work on the album. Wayfaring Stranger is a walk through a meadow, each note as light as a pollen grain as Wang sings of loneliness and travelling home to see her father. The poignant tone is reinforced by Fält’s simple, unobtrusive playing. The track provides a fulfilling ending to a super album. I cannot wait for solo album number four. LINK: Pre-order the album here

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