Voyage is Norwegian Daniel Herskedal’s long-awaited follow-up to his beautiful earlier albums: Slow Eastbound Train (2015) and The Roc (2017).
The line-up is now familiar, with Herskedal on tuba and bass trumpet, Eyolf Dale (piano), Helge Andreas Norbakken (percussion) and Bergmund Waal Skaslien (viola), who first debuted on The Roc. Maher Mahmoud (oud) guest features on some of the tracks.
As ever, all music is composed by Herskedal and is characterised by his warm, inter-twining melodies that evoke emotive responses to his musical storytelling, with nothing but a title to set the frame.
Batten Down The Hatches rightly describes the turbulent opening to this nautically themed album, with all instruments playing off one another. Cut And Run is a flowing piano piece with the melody lines of tuba and viola often merging into a single voice.
In The Mediterranean Passage In The Age Of Refugees, strummed viola provides the initial foil to introduce Mahmoud’s oud, which lends a north African element to this story of migration. The piece dramatically builds in intensity before fading to a quiet resolution.
Listen to In The Mediterranean Passage here:
Military style drums set the theme for this reference to the naval base at Chatham Dockyard. Mournful voices of bass trumpet and viola compete to hold the melody, building dramatically to a battle crescendo. I’m sure I can hear echoing cannon in Norbakken’s percussion.
Listen to Chatham Dockyard here:
The Horizon is a light piece that allows Dale to showcase his ability across the scales with great sensitivity. Again, we hear the uncanny pairing of bass trumpet and viola, often merging into a single voice. The Gulls Are Tossed Paper In The Wind, poetically sets the scene for this upbeat stormy piece, with viola gulls soaring through the turbulent background of drums, tuba and piano. This segues seamlessly into Molly Hunts Seagulls, a melodic refrain on bass trumpet with a folk-like / sea-shanty feel. (Intrigued by the title, I did some research to find it refers to a naturalist’s observation of pair-bonding amongst female gulls - an interesting read for any biologists out there)
Like many of Herskedal’s creations, you may feel that Rescue-at-sea Operations is leading you through a wordless tale; a stricken ship (trumpet) being aided by frenzied small boats (oud). The Lighthouse ends the album with a calm lament of structured brass arrangement, evoking the isolated loneliness.
Daniel Herskedal has assembled a remarkable group of talented musicians, independently masterful and collectively impressive in their interaction. For me, the lower toned instruments (tuba, bass trumpet and viola) have more expressive qualities that their higher-registered cousins and both Herskedal and Skaslien employ this to great effect, demonstrating their total mastery of their instruments, stretching them beyond the limits of normal mortals. Yet none of this feels in any way false or forced but organically set within the sound of the group as a whole and this is felt in the passion and emotion that the music is able to convey. The music, as ever, lies somewhere on the boundaries of jazz, classical and even folk. For me, there is more than a hint to the Sami tradition of “joiking”, musically depicting a thing or a place, but translated into instrumental form rather than oral.
Another beautiful album!