Album reviews

Mette Henriette – ‘Drifting’

Mette Henriette Drifting

(ECM Records – ECM 2766. Album review by Graham Spry)

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It was in 2014 Sami-Norwegian saxophonist Mette Henriette recorded her debut album in Oslo for ECM (review link below). It was a truly impressive double CD of thirty-five mostly meditative tunes, notable also for the fact that there were so many of them. Admittedly they were mostly short (sometimes very short) with only a few of more than five minutes’ duration. She has now released her second album, Drifting, whose compositions pursue a similar vein by being mostly short and generally meditative in nature. And like her first album, this is exquisitely delicate music that reveals extra depths on repeated listening and where there is a sense that the tunes are only ever as long as they need to be.

The first album featured an ensemble of up to 14 musicians and a saxophone-led trio but on Drifting she performs as a trio with herself on tenor saxophone, Judith Hamann on violoncello and on piano Johan Lindvall, who also appeared on the first album. In general, the more focused sound of a small ensemble better suits her generally sparse compositions with their overall sense of stillness and calm which seems somehow apt for a musician from Trondheim, so close to the Arctic Circle. It could be said that her sound resounds with the fluidity and poignancy of the vocals of Sami reindeer herders calling their animals.

Henriette’s compositional approach is that although the ideas behind the music may have matured over time, when each tune is performed it has a freshness that belongs to that moment in time. There is also a gratifying consistency in the album’s overall tone. Her compositional process is illustrated on the CD booklet by showing the very sparse notation for Čieđđa, fas: her response, performed at the Munch Museum in Oslo, to one of Edvard Munch’s unfinished texts.

There are so many beautiful melodies, memorable motifs and inspired musical inventions that it is often difficult to believe that so much of the music is improvised. This is especially true of the most exceptional tunes such as the title track, Drifting, and A Choo. Right from the opening track, The 7th, the album progresses at an unhurried pace that allows each tune to develop at a natural pace without outstaying its welcome – even if that happens to be only 42 seconds long.

All the tunes are written by Henriette with the exception of Rue du Renard, which was co-written by Lindvall and not surprisingly gives the piano an opportunity to shine. Some tunes are beautifully melodic such as Chassé; some are pure adventures in sound such as the note-free 0 °; and some are mysterious and slightly sinister such as Solsnu. There are passages in some tunes where the music develops so gradually that it resembles the leisurely pace of the music by British composer Laurence Crane. The longer compositions, such as Oversoar and Indrifting you, give more time and space for the themes and motifs of the music to expand, but remain carefully constrained.

Although there has been nearly eight years between her first album and Drifting, Mette Henriette has never ceased to be active. She has worked with performance artist Marina Abramović and electronic producer Nicholas Jaar. She has composed music on commission for orchestras, festivals and arts institutions throughout Europe. She has had artist residencies in various places including the Southbank Centre. She is a serious musician with a uniquely singular vision of how her music should sound. And although the rigour of her compositional approach might suggest otherwise, the music on this remarkable album is never less than accessible and enjoyable.

LINk: Review of debut album from 2016

Buy Drifting from Presto Music

Drifting on ECM Records

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