Jormin/Willemark/Nakagawa: Trees Of Light (ECM 2406)

Trees Of Light

Lena Willemark voice, fiddle and viola
Anders Jormin double bass
Karin Nakagawa 25-string koto
Recorded May 2013, Konstepidemin, Göteborg
Engineer: Johannes Lundberg
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher

Opportunities come with the rainbow
and the children
Sing to us
so our hearts come back to us!

Anders Jormin returns to ECM with yet another surprising blend of multi-genre elements. The Swedish bassist welcomes folksinger Lena Willemark and, in her ECM debut, virtuoso of the 25-string koto Karin Nakagawa in settings and improvisations around Willemark’s poetry, sung in her native Älvdals dialect. Jormin has always been one for self-reinvention, and on Trees Of Light he has stepped into some of his most ambitious territory yet. Not because of any sense of scope (although the trio does evoke some rather expansive scenery), but because the import of every gesture is magnified in such an intimate setting.

Yet it’s Willemark, absent from the label since Jormin’s 2004 In winds, in light, who crafts the center of the current project. Her words and melodies inform every song of the program, with the sole exception of Jormin’s instrumental “Hirajoshi.” The latter piece’s title refers to the hirajōshi mode of pentatonic (plus semi-tonal) tuning in which it is played and foregrounds the koto’s dry-wing rasp, percussive accents, and open field. When Nakagawa sweeps her hands over its waters as Willemark’s viola and Jormin’s arco bass sing their way into union, the trio captures something ancient in its hands.

Around this wordless center flows a veritable ecosystem of dreams, recollections, and impressions. It’s not simply that jazz, Swedish folk, and traditional Japanese music are melding into something new. Rather, it’s that they are speaking to one another in the interest of honest friendship. Both the title and music of “Krippainggler” (If you listen) best exemplify this philosophy, as each musician occupies her or his place. Where Willemark’s voice is like the reed and Jormin’s bass is the riverbed, Nakagawa draws the waterline between them in a song of angels and resuscitation of life forces.


Pairings occur naturally throughout. Nakagawa and Jormin sometimes beckon their vocal traveling companion as if she were the sun itself, while at others koto and voice share ululations and whispers. Spotlight moments also abound, as when Nakagawa proves her improvising strengths in “Urbanus” or Willemark sings alone on “Minni” (Memories), an arresting segment of horizon. Whatever the mood, the listener can be sure to feel it wholeheartedly. “Ogadh Dett” (Your eye), for one, opens with a bass solo that is muscular yet somehow gentle, giving way as it does to the koto’s fairytale strains and taking lyric comfort in the warmth of unbroken regard. “Uoruo” (Worry), for another, walks the way of sorrow as if it were the clearest path of all.

And perhaps there is some truth here: that which leaves the deepest scar is also the easiest to follow, so that even when we are dancing, as in the title track or the “Slingerpolska” (Winding polska), somewhere in the back of our minds we know that we will end up alone, and all the stronger for it.

I am still standing where I left me
I walk on as another
See that the earth is still there
Still there
That I must remember
I have loved

(To hear samples of Trees Of Light, click here.)

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