Lena Willemark & Ale Möller: Nordan (ECM 1536)

Lena Willemark
Ale Möller
Nordan

Ale Möller mandola, natural flutes, folk-harp, shawm, cows-horn, hammered dulcimer, accordion
Lena Willemark vocal, fiddle
Palle Danielsson double-bass
Mats Edén drone-fiddle, kantele
Per Gudmundson fiddle, Swedish bagpipes
Tina Johansson percussion
Jonas Knutsson saxophone, percussion
Björn Tollin percussion
Recorded December 1993 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Medieval Swedish folklore and balladry rise again in Nordan, the first ECM collaboration between songstress Lena Willemark and multitalented instrumentalist Ale Möller. While the latter brings out gorgeous sounds from mandola (i.e., alto mandolin), kantele (plucked zither), hammered dulcimer, and folk-harp, among others, the former lends the session’s most powerful instrument—her earthly voice—to an ensemble of bass (courtesy of regular sessioner Palle Danielsson), drone-fiddle, Swedish bagpipes, saxophones, and percussion. That voice is the central figure of nearly every painting in this gallery, tending to crisp plains in search of traditions and lives buried. It spurs the calls of “Trilo,” an incantation unto the wispy barbs of sentiment that abound therefrom, and calls from more distant pastures in “Gullharpan” and through the watery harp strains of “Mannelig”—these but a few of the many songs one might single out here for their remarkable sense of space and atmosphere. Willemark also proves her prowess on the fiddle for two Polskas, the rustic metalwork of “Hornlåt,” and the jig-like “Jemsken.” Möller has the last word with “Drömspår,” an epilogue for accordion that leads us into less turbulent waters than those depicted on the album’s cover.

The music may sound exotic on paper, but when we hear it we already seem to know Willemark’s stories in intimate detail. We have felt these places before, even if the dirt has long since washed from our feet and been replaced by an alternate future. Like anything in nature, the art of these musicians is never still, a string that vibrates and never dies. In the absence of detailed translations, we can still taste the minerals of which every song is composed and come to know their shapes by heart. This is also made possible by the album’s acoustics and engineering, both stunning. An ECM benchmark and easily within the label’s Top 5 on the folk side of things. This is music measured in hand spans, not footprints.

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