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Friday, 17 February 2023 17:40

Out of the Fog – Daniel Herskedal

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New album sees Norwegian composer team up with singer Emilie Nicolas.

Out of the Fog, is the latest album from Norwegian composer and musician extraordinaire, Daniel Herskedal.  This time we see Daniel Herskedal (tuba & bass trumpet), team up with Eivind Aarset (guitar) and stalwart colleague Helge Norbakken (drums) and featuring the vocal artistry and lyrics of Emilie Nicolas.

I have been enraptured by Daniel Herskedal’s compositions since I first heard his Slow Eastbound Train in 2015 and subsequent albums thereafter, whose band incarnations have included quite a variety of formats and players, adding upon a standard trio of brass, piano and percussion.  His ability to take a subject, connect to it emotionally and clearly communicate with musical grace and without resorting to words has always been a key attraction.  His decision here to counter that approach and collaborate with Norwegian singer-songwriter Emilie Nicolas has caused me to relisten to this album repeatedly, to reflect hard and deeply on just what it is about his music that appeals so much.

I confess that that I have a preference for instrumental works, partly perhaps due to an aptitude for mishearing or misunderstanding song lyrics that is too embarrassing.  Fortunately, the album came with a link to the lyrics to get me through that hurdle.

The album opens with Out Here (listen here), a melancholic piece where Nicolas’s plaintive vocals sit well alongside Herskedal’s bass trumpet melody.  The lyrics initially led me to believe this was a tale of lost love “Your heart was all I ever knew, now its further away from me” but after many listenings, the penny finally dropped “Out here in the cold, teach me how to be.  Breathe with me, let me be by your side”. Not a love song then, but a story of a newborn animal (a reindeer calf?) experiencing the harsh reality of life in the tundra.  Lyrics of the other tracks follow a similar line.  So this is what Herskedal meant when he refers to Nicolas “…she took my music to a new level. She totally caught my artistic ideas”, and hence the inspiration behind the collaboration.

Lost opens with an overdubbed brass arrangement before Nicolas’ lyrics come in.  Aarset’s restrained guitar provides the substantial backing while Herskedal’s tuba gives a counter melody. Upbeat Free expresses the exhilaration of herd life unrestrained by boundaries. Out of the Blue still comes across as a love song, though conflicted by the sadness in the delivery.  

Jubilant Found is a resolution to Lost, the lyrics are brief, giving space for bass trumpet to lead the melody.  Uneven Terrain (listen here) has no lyrics and is more akin to earlier works.  Nicolas uses her voice as another instrument to mirror and interplay with Herskedal’s bass trumpet.  Aarset’s guitar is more dominant here, highly manipulated and sounding quite organ-like.  

Repetitive guitar chords set the pace for I’ll Sleep Later On and mimics the persistence of migration.  Clean guitar chords open While I Look For You, another instrumental, interplay between guitar and bass trumpet.  Norbakken’s marimba opens instrumental Tundra (listen here) then drives up the pace, while Nicolas’ voice duets again with bass trumpet.  Out From the Sea, repeats the interplay between voice and bass trumpet and quietly brings the album to a close.

Each track in Out of the Fog is well arranged and balanced, there is no dominance of any one component over the others.  The tunes are thoughtful, melodic and emotional as you would expect from Daniel Herskedal, and its actually quite difficult to get them out of my head.   The overall sound however, is quite different from earlier albums with different group formats.  Aarset’s sometimes heavy use of electronics creates a wall of sound that the piano did not, and I miss that open, spartan feel, though I’m sure others will be of opposite mind.  Nicolas’ voice proves an exceptional instrument that suits the compositions and there is also some sympathetic tonal resonance when dueting with Herskedal’s bass trumpet.  I thoroughly enjoyed this album, but it does feel to me that accommodating the lyrical element has come with some simplification of structure and some lost dynamic interplay between instruments.  Norbakken’s inimitable style is always sympathetic to the total sound and that is true here too, though it does feel that his playing here is also restrained in order to fit.

Out of the Fog may well open Herskedal’s works to a wider appreciative audience led in by the lyrical component.  What is clear though, Herskedal is always developing new ideas and testing out new possibilities, and of that, I will never tire !


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