Iro Haarla piano, harp
Hayden Powell trumpet
Trygve Seim soprano and tenor saxophones
Ulf Krokfors double bass
Mika Kallio drums, percussion
Karin Eriksson concertmaster
Jukka Iisakkila conductor
Recorded October 2012 at the Concert Hall of NorrlandsOperan, Umeå, Sweden
Tonmeister: Lars-Göran Ulander
Engineer: Torbjörn Samuelsson
Mixed in Stockholm by Torbjörn Samuelsson, Manfred Eicher, and Iro Haarla
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
Release date: August 26, 2016
Finnish pianist, harpist, and composer Iro Haarla is the only artist to have made that triangle of talents an equilateral one. Five years separate this and her last ECM project, Vespers, carrying over from it a certain allegiance to cold landscapes while erasing a break into the clouds above it to let through spiritual sunrays. Described by Haarla as “the struggle between darkness and light,” Ante Lucem is a house unto itself, inhabited by figures frozen in time yet harboring thoughts of fire. Its doorway is “Songbird Chapel.” Although scored for symphony orchestra and jazz quintet—the latter including trumpeter Hayden Powell, saxophonist Trygve Seim, bassist Ulf Krokfors, drummer/percussionist Mika Kallio, and Haarla herself—this inaugural section treats the orchestra not as a backdrop for improvised cartographies but rather as a body wholly comprised of individual voices. The effect is such that even the distinct soloing of Seim’s tenor feels connected by ligaments to its surroundings.
Cellular metamorphoses abound in “Persevering with Winter,” wherein Krokfors draws an arco thread through icicle-rich forest (an effect recreated by Kallio’s synesthetic percussion) and Powell swells in and out of focus as if caught between perceptions of reality. The third section—“…and the Darkness has not overcome it…”—opens with Seim’s duduk-like tone flexing its bones in the stillness of a setting sun. Here the quintet takes center stage, fleshing out internal conflicts with the fortitude of a theological assembly. Thus we come to “Ante Lucem – Before Dawn…” For this, the orchestra and quintet occupy different bands of the audible spectrum, in what amounts to a musical representation of the Passion, beginning in the garden of Gethsemane and ending with the glory of resurrection.
Throughout, whether on harp or piano, Haarla brings a cinematically binding force to every shift of terrain. Her sense of drama is realistic, of timing precise, and of divinity barely veiled. All of which makes Ante Lucem a resonant statement of faith in a time of faithlessness.