Surman/Krog/Rypdal/Storaas: Nordic Quartet (ECM 1553)

Nordic Quartet

John Surman soprano saxophone, baritone saxophone, alto clarinet, bass clarinet
Karin Krog voice
Terje Rypdal guitar
Vigleik Storaas piano
Recorded August 1994 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Nordic Quartet bonds an unconventional roster of musicians and conceptual approaches. John Surman reaches into his usual toolkit, favoring the lower range, while vocalist Karin Krog sews her Sheila Jordan-like vibrato into Terje Rypdal’s electric swoons and pianist Vigleik Storaas’s intimate embraces. One can expect Surman to shine above any group he might be a part of, but in “Traces” it is Rypdal and Krog who slink like the wolves of our interest through abandoned factories, such that piano and reeds seem to drop from the ceiling, each a spider invisibly tethered. And indeed, the album is about nothing if not traces, smeared on the windowpanes of childhood homes, one-bedroom apartments, and coffee shops. We hear this most in Surman’s duets: “Unwritten Letter” (w/Krog), “The Illusion” (w/Storaas), and “Double Tripper” (w/Rypdal), the latter a battle-scarred stumble into post-traumatic memory. Rypdal steps up the mood in “Gone To The Dogs,” where his softly rocking chording anchors us in a hammock knotted by soprano (like floss through silver teeth) and lit by a kiss of pianistic sun. It is in these instrumental tracks that the album takes off in more exciting directions—surprising in light of the healthy pathos Krog wove into Such Winters Of Memory. Her most intuitive contributions to this session are wordless, as in the ghostly overtones of “Ved Svørevatn,” which blisters like an underwater volcano. Lost to its own philosophies, it is a voice guided only by (and into) itself. “Wild Bird” is the last breath, a quiet account of dark thoughts and darker thinkers. A heat rash of organ spreads across Krog’s lyrical skin, itself a half-remembered cry, windy and chopped beyond recognition. This is our solitude realized in sound, naked as the moment we are born.

One thought on “Surman/Krog/Rypdal/Storaas: Nordic Quartet (ECM 1553)

  1. This is one of those releases that I purchased because I loved the cover photo (makes you feel so…cold! – but there is a story and a mystery there…), and it seemed like a superb line up. It isn’t one of those that I tend to listen to beginning to end, but certainly one of those I pick and choose samples from….except Wild Bird, which is a favorite track. Just a nice, typical ECM release that showcases the genius of the collaborations that arise.

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