Falkevik – New Constellations
(Drabant Music. Album review by Rob Mallows)
Over the last decade, Norway has become a reliable source of great, modern jazz music. Like their North Sea natural gas, Norway’s jazz culture – supported nobly, one might add, by their government – seems to have limitless reserves of great players and sonically interesting music.
Piping its way to my computer this week was a group new to me. Falkevik is Julie Falkevik on keyboards; Ellen Brekken on electric and upright bass (she’s also part of the Hedvig Mollestad and Told Gustaven Trios) and Marius Trøan Hansen on drums.
Musically, the trio’s approach and dynamic feels similar to another favourite of mine, still relatively unknown in the UK: the Kait Dunton Trio (though the latter is strictly instrumental).
What a serendipitous find. My first thought on hearing Falkevik’s voice is that it has that same delicious plaintive, just-on-the-point-of-breaking tension as Nina Persson of The Cardigans (there’s one for the millennials to look up). It’s packed full of emotion and just on the right side of breathy.
She uses it like a glacier smooth welcome mat to usher in some of the most luscious modern piano trio playing I’ve heard in a while.
Plenty of space is allowed for the piano, ensuring that it in no way plays second fiddle to the voice: this is a piano album with vocals, and not the other way around. That their inspirations include Esbjörn Svensson, GoGo Penguin and Suzanne Vega makes perfect sense.
When I read in the press release the phrase “quirky and elegant pop melodies in combination with Nordic jazz sensibilities” my heart sank but, you know, it works. And we all need a bit of playfulness in our lives. Any risk of tweeness is leavened by the use of electronics and effects, balancing any sugar sweetness with mesmeric, tart dark chocolate.
Opening track Keep the Coordinates begins with vocals really up close to the microphone, and continues with unadorned piano that opens into some faultless trio playing. A bright opening.
When We Let Go is all passionate enquiry in Falkevik’s singing over a repetitive piano riff and thumping bass drumming, but it’s the bowing on the bass, laden with effects, by Brekken – reminiscent of EST in their pomp – which helps this track glide along. The chord shift at 4 minutes 16 seconds is sufficiently charged to make one’s neck shiver.
Traveler is jazz at walking pace, the tempo set by Hansen’s light touch brush work and Brekken’s economic – but impactful – plucking, under which male vocalisations inject atmosphere. It never really goes anywhere, but that’s fine; the journey is more important than the destination.
In contrast, title track New Constellations is spiky and grabby from the off. Falkevik’s plucked piano strings create uneven ground to which her vocals provide sonic stability, and Brekken broods in the bass. The bars where Falkevik goes off piste with a brief melodic diversion, before reverting to the melody, are a welcome surprise, giving this track real personality. Changeable is poppy and simple, and perhaps the weakest track on the album, although the main vocal refrain is fun. In Public feels, ironically, more private and introspective, with a simple melody rising and falling to great effect.
Amputation is – as the name suggests – darker: its discordant chords, eerie electronics and distorted vocals wouldn’t sound out of place in a modern horror movie, but it really starts to fly after about the first minute, when Falkevik’s sustained chords power into the air and the bass accelerates. Great stuff.
Walts is languid, with a sight ooky feel to the piano; in contrast, Amplify Me has more energy, with expressive vocals over spare piano. This track is the proverbial grower which bursts into kaleidoscopic life almost two minutes in with insistent eighth-note chords on the piano that propel the song to a wonderful denouement.
With all the lyrics so far in English, final track Og så gikk eg meg vill igjen – And then I got lost again – is in their mother tongue and all the better for it, bringing the album to a close with the gentleness of a row boat beaching in a quiet fjord. Delicate piano, clear vocals, bowed bass, it makes me hanker for a Norwegian dictionary to know what Falkevik is singing with such feeling.
More of this please. And come to London!
Categories: Album review