Harbour is the latest album from Norwegian maestro Daniel Herskedal and continues his fascination with maritime subjects. After his lock-down solo masterpiece Call for Winter, Harbour sees Daniel Herskedal (tuba & bass trumpet), reunite with Eyolf Dale (piano and celeste) and Helge Norbakken (drums and marimba). All compositions are by Herskedal, whose aim is always to convey his emotional connection to the subject matter; his compositions progress, as if telling a story, and are dynamically expressed. Those who have heard Herskedal will recognise he is a master player of the tuba and bass trumpet. In his hands, both of these bassy instruments are imbued with incredible tonal qualities, as well as a surprising pitch range, making them impressive and dramatic solo instruments when required. However, this album is not a showcase for the winds; each composition is tightly scored to make efficient use of all players, with every note and phrase thought out and carefully balanced.
The Mariner's Cross (the anchor-shaped cross of St Clement’s is said to offer protection on sea voyages) opens the album by setting a melodic and rhythmic matrix, from which chorused tubas rise from the depths, creating a visceral tension… which is released with the next resolving chord. As the piece develops, tormented trumpet screams in exquisite agony over a tuba counter-melody as Norbakken frenetically doubles the pace.
Slow and insistent, Ice-free conjures the image of a boat mournfully wending its way across these waters. The Lighthouse On The Horizon begins quietly with breathy bass trumpet setting the melody. As the volume and tension build, Dale’s piano adds a counter-theme which develops into a keyboard-spanning maelstrom before the storm finally settles. Hunters Point Drydocks is a dynamic piece, where quieter piano-led sections are punctuated by explosive, overdriven tuba, perhaps reflecting the association of this dockyard with WWII and use of the first atomic bombs.
Listen to The Lighthouse On The Horizon here:
A slow-starting piece over a piano drone note, Arriving at Ellis Island evokes the first sight of the USA many immigrants would have had coming into harbour and develops a beautiful, complex trumpet melody suggestive of a new life awaiting. The use of Arabic modality and irregular timings give Dancing Dhow Deckhands a relentless, driving quality. With Herskedal warping every note and Norbakken’s insistent off-beat drumming, this is perhaps the most heart-racing track on the album.
Listen to Dancing Dhow Deckhands here:
To calm us down, Like A Ship in The Harbour is a thoughtful piano-led piece.
The White Lion Docks in Point Comfort recalls the journey and landing of the first slaves to the USA, in Jamestown, Virginia, where a number of slaves taken from a Portuguese ship were exchanged for food by the British privateer ship White Lion. Dale’s piano and Norbakken’s marimba combine to set up a background rhythmic motif confirming the African tribal element onboard. Another lively and exciting piece that builds in rhythm and suspense with an overlying melancholic theme. Listen to this tune here:
In contrast, Port of Call is a light-hearted number with a heavily syncopated piano refrain while the trumpet lead sounds almost synthesised. The Beaches of Lesbos is a slow and measured piece, with a sad, plaintive trumpet melody that competently draws the album to a sedate close.
The studio recordings make the most effective use of multitracking to produce a perfect end product which must create issues when re-scoring for live performances but this only enhances the experience and individuality of those live performances, which never fail to impress in their own right.
I can’t wait to see this performed live.