Nov 8 2016
Since the US Presidential election has taken many of you to the breaking point of a nervous breakdown, this seems like an ideal opportunity to formally introduce you to the music of Andreas Ulvo.
His name has come up many times before this, both on this site with various projects and also on my eMusic and Wondering Sound recommendations columns. The Norwegian pianist, composer and photographer has the soothing and introspective calm of a wintertime fireplace, which, really, all of us could probably use today.
For solo projects, Ulvo has two recordings. The most recent is the 2016 release Unchangeable Seasons. Like his 2011 debut Light & Loneliness, the music has an elegance and a grace made for solemn Sunday mornings and those Saturday nights when the weekend electricity has finally died down and a sense of peace is longed for. Ulvo increases the level of activity on Unchangeable Seasons, where a take on Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turca” has the cyclical action that flirts with playfulness. But for the most part, the music is embodied by tracks like “Kjempevise-slåtten,” which have the hypnotic effect of swirling mists, but possess a chill that cuts to the bone.
The one real divergence between debut and sophomore release is the vocal contribution on the latter’s title-track. The song’s pop music overtones are interspersed with gorgeous flurries of piano and strings, and that give and take between the gentle vocal passages and the furious instrumental passages is, at times, rather breathtaking.
Ulvo likes to add interludes of improvisational fragments, striking images that aren’t really there for their individual personality, but instead possess a value as facilitator and support for the album’s persona viewed as a single entity. And as a matter of striking imagery, sometimes it’s those scenes between the scenes that add the essential narrative that turns a simple story into an epic tale.
Ulvo’s collaboration with the trio Slagr was a compelling display of how drama is no obstacle to creating serene music. 2012’s Softspeaker had Ulvo bringing his Nordic Jazz-classical-folk form of expression to mesh with the Norwegian folk of the trio of cellist Sigrun Eng, vibraphonist Amund Sjølie Sveen and the hardanger fiddle of Anne Hytta.
The Nordic folk element speaks strongest on this gorgeous recording. The melodies are succinct and clear and beamed wide like a friendly smile. The rhythmic component that balances this out, however, is what really gives this recording its depth and personality. The way Ulvo shifts between a harmonic partner with cello and a rhythmic conspirator with vibraphone and fiddle creates a balance between two prominent features, and allows both to shine. And that’s why this album is perfect for the first rays of morning light cracking open the nighttime or driving through the city in the middle of a rainstorm… there’s a tranquility and a liveliness to this music that is adaptable to any kind of setting. This music is in harmony with its surroundings, no matter what they might be.
Ulvo is also a member of the Eple Trio.
Of their 2014 release Universal Cycle , I wrote that it is the kind of music for drifting away to, but that trio of pianist Andreas Ulvo, bassist Sigurd Hole and drummer Jonas Sjøvaag ramp up the voltage on the details and the nuance, so that tiny sounds carry far and wide. It’s not sleepy music, but it is made of the stuff of very active dreams. It engages without challenging. It immerses without overwhelming. It is quite beautiful.
My own opinion is one that believes that this trio embodies so much of what is possible from the Nordic Jazz genre. Their balance of jazz improvisation and folk influences, the merging of minimalism techniques and dramatic surges of intensity, the ability to morph between song structure and unstructured expressionism and the way their dreamlike imagery can provoke both emotional and cerebral reactions all speak to just how vibrant and evocative their music is.
There’s been an exciting development about some of their older and live works that I’ll be announcing in a column soon, likely in the aftermath of the year-end blitz. But for now, check out a track from their 2014 release…
(And you can read my original write-up on this site by following this LINK.
Hopefully some of that music will help get you through the US election or, really, any day when you need a dose of serenity for a soundtrack to your day.
Let’s end with a video from Ulvo’s 2016 solo project Unchangeable Seasons…