Personnel: Sinikka Langeland (vocals, kantele); Arve Henriksen (trumpet); Berit Opheim, Linn Andrea Fuglseth, Anna Maria Friman (vocals); Trygve Seim (soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone); Anders Jormin (double bass); Markku Ounaskari (percussion).
Liner Note Author: Dag Alveng.
Recording information: Rainbow Studio, Oslo (02/2015).
Translator: Shari Gerber Nilsen.
After the largely instrumental The Half-Finished Heaven was issued in 2015, composer, kantele player, and musicologist Sinikka Langeland returns with The Magical Forest, a vocal album. These songs continue her long study of Finnskogen (music from the "forest of the Finns") lore based on fragments and traces she discovered in texts, stories, and songs about the axis mundi or "world tree." For this date she reassembled her full Starflowers quintet (named for her 2006 ECM debut) of trumpeter Arve Henriksen, saxophonist Trygve Seim, bassist Anders Jormin, and percussionist Markku Ounaskari. The group also played on her 2010 offering This Land That Is Not and has backed her in concert settings for a decade. Langeland also enlisted the vocal ensemble Trio Medieval, setting this date apart from virtually everything else she's done while retaining her musical character. The source material digs deep into the sense of place that the world tree represents, a pillar that connects not only earth to sky -- literally and poetically -- but the spiritual in pagan and Christian traditions.
Opener "Puun Loitsu" ("Prayer to the Tree Goddess") is a 19th century rune song offered as a near tribal chant. Langeland's voice and kantele are accompanied only by the bassline until two-thirds of the way through, when Trio Medieval adds a stunning modern polyphony. "Sammas," one of several lyrics attributed to Finnskogen seeress Kaisa Vilhunen, weaves a spectral jazz interlude to a folk song, where the axis mundi is a pillar to heaven made of silver and invokes the Holy Trinity in its introduction. The engagement between the frontline improvisers and rhythm section creates a moody, spectral soundworld for the singers. After a spoken word intro, "Vargman" ("Wolfman") becomes a haunting improvisational interplay between the quintet and Trio Medieval; Langeland's contralto relates a sung narrative above it all. Perhaps the most endearing quality of The Magical Forest, its center, so to speak, is Langeland's kantele playing. Her Finnish table harp bridges jazz improvisation and folk song in "Beaver," and illustrates the reach of Finnskogen from Western Europe to its outlying connections in Siberia and even Japan in "Kamu," and underscores the inseparable relationship in this music between vocalists and instrumentalists on "Pillar to Heaven." Langeland takes chances on The Magical Forest. She allows improvisers a greater degree of freedom. In turn, they extend the reach of her songs from the historical past to the present without erasing their folklore. By involving Trio Medieval, she invites a more fluid yet constant relationship between the physical and metaphysical. Together they illustrate the universal aspects of Finnskogen culture in global symbolism and myth. ~ Thom Jurek