Harpistica Giovanna Pessi i pjevačica Susanna Wallumrød obrađuju Purcellove pjesme iz 17. stoljeća dodajući im umjetne boje iz balada Leonarda Cohena i Nicka Drakea.
“If Grief Could Wait” is an intimate album of very special character, the outcome of a collaboration between harpist Giovanna Pessi and singer Susanna K. Wallumrød. Given impetus also by the nyckelharpa of Marco Ambrosini and Jane Achtman’s viola da gamba, the project has Pessi’s arrangements of Henry Purcell songs at its core. It begins with “The Plaint” (from The Fairy Queen of 1692) and continues with “If Grief Has Any Pow’r to Kill”, and “O Solitude” (from The Theatre of Musick), as well as “Music for a While” (from Oedipus) and “An Evening Hymn” (from Harmonia Sacra).
But Purcell’s music has never been heard quite like this. Threaded between his songs and instrumental pieces here are works of singer-songwriters Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake, as well as songs by Susanna K. Wallumrød herself. “If Grief Could Wait” is neither a project that adheres rigorously to ideals of historical performance practice, nor one that strives self-consciously to “cross over”.
Recorded in three days in Lugano last November, this fresh-sounding album has some years of history behind it. Giovanna Pessi previously recorded for ECM with the Rolf Lislevand Ensemble, and also with the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble, the hard-to-categorize group led by a ‘jazz’ pianist but inspired by contemporary composition and folk music. It was while rehearsing in Oslo with Christian that Pessi first met the pianist’s younger sister, Susanna K. Wallumrød, then just beginning to shape her own musical career. - player.ecmrecords.com/
There was a time when hard lines existed between genres, but they seem long gone when tenor John Potter and electronic composer Ambrose Field
can create a very 21st century take on 15th century musical frameworks with Being Dufay (2009), while Norwegian keyboardist Jon Balke conjoins baroque string ensemble and Fourth World progenitor, trumpeter Jon Hassell into a century and culture-spanning Siwan (2009). It's no coincidence that both recordings are on ECM; with If Grief Could Wait, the German label continues its defiance of categorization with a collection of spiritual and secular songs crossing 400 years.
Giovanna Pessi is no stranger to the gray areas between genres and the blurring boundary between form and freedom. Despite being the baroque harpist's first album as a leader/co-leader for ECM, work with guitarist/lutenist Rolf Lislevand on 2008's Diminuito and, more importantly, on Christian Wallumrod's rigorously constructed yet interpretively open Fabula Suite Lugano (2010) have clearly expanded her purview. It was while working with the Norwegian pianist that the classically trained Swiss first met Wallumrød's sister Susanna and her string of Rune Grammofon recordings, both solo and as one-half of Susanna and The Magical Orchestra. With her pure and unadorned voice, Wallumrød refreshingly demonstrates that you don't need melismatic melodrama to bring a plaintive perspective to original material and music from singer/songwriters such as Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Sandy Denny; you need to get inside the song, understand the song, and deliver the song.
In a program dominated by 17th century English composer Henry Purcell and performed on instruments largely considered antiquated, rather than creating temporal paradoxes with the inclusion of contemporary material from Cohen, Nick Drake and Wallumrød, If Grief Could Wait feels strangely distanced from any particular timeframe—instead, unequivocally timeless. The combination of Pessi's baroque harp with Jane Achtman's viola da gamba (from the 15th century) and Marco Ambrosini's Swedish nyckelharpa (a 14th century traditional keyed fiddle) creates a warm, evocative cushion over which Wallumrød's voice floats and occasionally soars, with the kind of effortless control that renders significant each note and every nuance. And it's not just Wallumrød whose contributions resonate because of their very nature; economy defines the entire ensemble—with Achtman and Ambrosini astutely recruited by the harpist and producer Manfred Eicher respectively, a year after the two women began rehearsing, searching for commonality to bridge two very different musical backgrounds.
As different as their backgrounds appear on the surface, there were common frames of reference from the outset. Both Pessi and Wallumrød are Cohen fans, bringing one song each to the repertoire; and if Wallumrød's recordings suggest a predilection for pop and singer/songwriters, neither is she a stranger to Purcell. But it's the apparent antithesis of their backgrounds—and the combination of archaic instruments with Wallumrød's more modernist vocal approach—that renders If Grief Could Wait somber without gravitas; delicate yet substantial; and evocative and powerful, all while retaining a timeless quietude of contrast and relief from the sometimes relentless noise and stress of the time in which it exists. - JOHN KELMAN
susanna, susanna and the magical orchestra, susanna wallumrød
Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, List of Lights and Buoys (2004)
Absolutely brilliant debut release from young Norwegian duo consisting of Susanna Wallumrød (vocals) and Morten Qvenild (keyboards). Nine beautiful low key original songs plus highly personal interpretations of Dolly Parton«s "Jolene" and Leonard Bernstein«s "Who Am I" makes this one of the strongest Norwegian debut releases in a very long time. If you´ve heard "Believer" (also included here) from "Money Will Ruin Everything" you know what to expect. Produced by Andreas Mjøs (Jaga Jazzist) and Deathprod.
I know nothing about this woman. I'm sitting still, listening for meaning in every nuance of her voice. It's reminiscent of sitting by a woman on the subway and making up a life together without even meeting her eye. For five stops, I haven't even turned the page of my book for fear of disturbing us. I'm trying to find a way to set my hand next to hers, or even just to hear her breathe.
Susanna Wallumrød doesn't grab you immediately: Her voice is attractive, but it's cool and pure. She sings in English, but her Norwegian accent hints reedlike through the edges, and so do the feelings she evokes, as subtle as a catch her voice. Her sound here spans from the whimsical and dreamy, to torch songs-- like her pleas to a rival on Dolly Parton's "Jolene", or the cool lust of "Sweet Devil"-- but her tone makes her intentions inscrutable, and even a sad whisper won't tell you what she's really thinking.
Wallumrød is backed by keyboardist Morten Qvenild, who's as careful with the mood as a waiter with a trayful of crystal. Rune Grammofon is increasingly home to artists who have mastered small strokes, which suits Qvenild: While the electronic spritzes and near-beats on "Friend" or "Sweet Devil" recall Björk's work with Matmos, the keyboard line on "Baby" is pared to the bone, and the spaces between the words start to sound like a void.
The "magical" side of the orchestra comes out in a few flashes of color, like the sudden eruption on Leonard Bernstein's "Who Am I". But Qvenild always stops short of exuberance, and in the tight ambience, he remains an orchestra-in-a-suitcase. It's easy to wonder what Wallumrød could do over bigger or more varied arrangements. But they made the trade-off to get that intimacy, which draws you in so close that it should be uncomfortable.
On a record this moody, the ambience can carry too much of the weight. This is a gripping record but not a great one: A few of Wallumrød's originals could have been replaced with covers. But they've written at least one flawless ballad, titled "Believer". When this appeared on recent compilations, the naked melody and pure voice sounded almost quizzically bare. But when embedded at the center of this album, it's a staggering anti-anthem, as Wallumrød justifies a break-up with a single line: "You are a believer, I am not." And there isn't one extra syllable to ease the blow. -
Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, Melody Mountain (2006)
In the bringing-it-down-a-notch tradition of Cat Power's The Covers Record, melancholic Norwegian duo Susanna and the Magical Orchestra have followed its ice-veined 2004 debut with a collection of cover tunes. Speaking with the band members in August, they told me Melody Mountain was originally supposed to be an EP. They decided to record some of the covers they'd been doing live and the idea spiraled into a larger project. However they arrived at this 10-song collection, it plays to the band's strengths: Two years after the release of List of Lights and Buoys, their spare, unforgettable take on Dolly Parton's "Jolene" remains the band's calling card.
Instead of coasting along with expected, aesthetically linked updates, Melody Mountain's oddball set list includes imaginative revisions: AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top", backed by, among other things, cembalo, a baroque keyboard instrument; a simplified, back-porch incision of Prince's "Condition of the Heart"; a Cat Powered ramble through Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right". To the band's credit, every choice, no matter how strange at first, ends up sounding real. They own each unironic, personalized revision; this isn't some indulgent Gus Van Sant meta game.
The honest sound could be a result of the pared-down, two-person lineup, coupled with the crystalline Deathprod production. Rather than lugging along some weepy string section, the "orchestra" is just one guy, ex-Jaga Jazzist and Shining member Morten Qvenild. His instrumental expertise and good taste lends intricately lush, deftly subtle keyboard/piano/church organ-based backdrops. More striking than the band's minimalism are the pristine, unpolluted vocals of Susanna Karolina Wallumrød. A true talent in the vein of Chan Marshall and Mira Billotte, she sings like a Norwegian mountain stream, never over-enunciating or throwing in unnecessary trills.
Melody Mountain's interpretations vary in shades and gradations. Kiss' "Crazy, Crazy Nights" becomes a shivery, damp-highway anthem for the dispossessed; Scott Walker's "It's Raining Today", a spooky, pedal-steeled, echo-chambered finale to a one-woman musical. Live, it was "Hallelujah" that made the people cry. Most versions of Leonard Cohen's transcendent ballad can send tear ducts into overtime, but it's a song Susanna and the Magical Orchestra have been performing for a while and Wallumrod's pacing and phrasing were masterful-- like she snuck herself into each note and lived an entire life inside it before moving onto the next. Here, as the hushed, funereal opener, it's pretty tough to top.
The song earning the most attention is a taffy-stretched "Love Will Tear Us Apart", wherein Ian Curtis's most famous libretto is laid bare and slowed to half speed. The original's nervously bottled dance is replaced by a languid, nearly a capella drift. To go the pop culture route, if this version soundtracked Donnie Darko, that make-out scene would become more tenderly melancholic, less heady and nerve-wracked.
In a great year for mountain albums (think Blood Mountain and Return to Cookie Mountain, among others), Susanna & the Magical Orchestra contribute the most enigmatic collection to the pile. Of course, there's reason to be restrained in the praise: They do a nice job, but these are only covers, and it'll be interesting to hear their own songwriting developments on future records. In the meantime, Melody Mountain is an example of expansive restraint that, surprisingly enough, makes for good driving music. Maybe it's the ghosts of particular songs' rocker pasts propelling the molasses flow? Hypothermia's phantom aches? - Brandon Stosuy
To say that the leftfield have been drooling over the prospect of a new Susanna And The Magical Orchestra album pretty much since their debut 'List Of Lights And Buoys' hit the run-out groove is a gross understatement - it's more akin to gagging for it... Seemingly able to conjure up the vast majesty of their native Norway through a music box that doesn't rely on cinematic clichés, Susanna Wallumrod and Morten Qvenild (aka Susanna and The Magical Orchestra) brought a raw fragility to their compositions that dripped with heartfelt sincerity whilst neatly avoiding the bog of greeting-card sentiment that can so blight such recordings. Taking the reappropriation of other people's songs as their starting point, Susanna and The Magical Orchestra have delivered 'Melody Mountain' - an album full of cover versions. Brimming with tracks from the likes of Leonard Cohen, Joy Division, Scott Walker, Prince, Bob Dylan and even Kiss, 'Melody Mountain' might seem a little past it in terms of concepts - with everyone from Jose Gonzales and Amanda Rogers through to Nouvelle Vague bringing the aural reinterpretation back to the surface of credibility. Yet rather than merely trot out some familiar melodies to avoid making a full-fat follow up, Susanna And The Magical Orchestra have coaxed something very special from their record collection - opening with Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' and successfully dodging the looming shadow of Buckley to make it their own. Relying on Wallumrod's crystalline vocals and the merest hint of organ, 'Hallelujah' is the kind of song which can't fail to elicit an emotional response - a situation which is reprised throughout. With an evident highlight being their phenomenal version of Depeche Mode's 'Enjoy The Silence', the duo also make the likes of AC/DC's 'It's A Long Way To The Top' and Kiss' 'Crazy, Crazy Nights' into tender bruises that are as delicate as a butterfly. Elsewhere, 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' manages to justify its inclusion (how many versions can you take...?), 'It's Raining Today' from Scott Walker is a majestic piano reading, whilst the unknown (to me at least) 'These Days' from Matt Burt is an all out tear-jerker. Dictionary definition of the word magical... - boomkat.com/
Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, 3 (2009)
When Susanna & The Magical Orchestra first hit the scene in 2003 they arrived at Rune Grammofon with an album packed with exquisite songwriting and darkly immersive Deathprod production, their crowning achievement being the eerily quiet, massively emotive 'Believer', a kind of frosty Nordic country song that slotted alongside their acclaimed cover of 'Jolene' perfectly. Sadly, it seemed that the fuss over that reinterpretation might have contributed to the duo's next move: a whole album full of covers, which seemed to coincide with all manner of other artists hopping on the same overcrowded bandwagon. Too many self-consciously genre-bending renditions of classic songs meant that it all became tiresome very quickly - in fact, you might even go so far as to say that between Melody Mountain, Jose Gonzalez and Nouvelle Vague, the art of the cover version has well and truly been killed off. Tellingly, all three of the above can be attached to renovations of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', mind you of the three, only one act thought it'd sound better with a bossa nova overhaul... While both Susanna Wallumrod and Morten Qvenild have gone on to work separately since then, they're almost certainly at their best when united, and this album should be regarded as a return to form. A sterner palette of sounds governs the album, reaching into more pronouncedly electronic timbres than ever before, yet (no doubt thanks in part to that rich, gloomy Deathprod production work) the tone manages to avoid anything you could reasonably call electro-pop. Even through the blips and bloops of 'Palpatine's Dream' the sonic palette has more in common with Kate Bush than anything following the stylistic hallmarks of modern synthed-up fare. While Susanna's voice steals much of the limelight, great credit is due to the skillfully light touch of Qvenild, whose technique across various keyed instruments is detailed and delicate to the point where sometimes you barely notice he's there at all, but as the principal architect of this record's sound-world he's due no small amount of praise. All this good stuff comes to a peak during 'Subdivisions', which perhaps quite irritatingly (especially given the first half of this write-up) is not only one of the candidates for the album's best track, but also a cover - worse yet, it's a cover of a deeply unhip Rush song. Lodged towards the end of the record, this stands out not only by merit of its writing (props to Peart, Lee & Lifeson for that) but thanks to a dignified, irony-free re-arrangement. It's over the course of this song that you start to realise that these guys truly are very gifted in the art of reinterpretation, and maybe it was just bad luck that we ended up being exposed to their readings of songs like 'Hallelujah' and 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' at a time when everyone else was having a go. This understatedly anthemic cover, plus a host of strong, imaginative originals makes 3 a welcome return for one of Rune Grammofon's finest acts. - boomkat