Review by Brad Walseth
Sinikka Langeland is a Scandinavian folksinger whose ECM debut recording, "Starflowers" is a stunning merging of ancient folk melodies, observant introspection and inspired jazz into a recording that seems to exist almost timelessly outside the realm of music itself, becoming in the end a living entity of its own as natural as the wind in the trees or snow on the meadow.
Using her unearthly sounding 39-string kantele (a Finnish table-harp) as the musical altar upon which to offer up primal sacrifices, Langeland puts the words of the lumberjack poet Hans Borli (1918-89) to this music and the results are staggering. Borli's worldview has been compared to Thoreau for his attention to the nuances of his natural surroundings, and his perceptive musings harken back to the times when Odin and the Old Norse Gods dwelt in Asgard, yet the music itself successfully reaches for influences as far from the fjords as modern Ornette Coleman-style free jazz - proving again the universality of true art and music.
The combination of Borli's words (with wonderful instrumental interludes), Langelands' haunting voice filled with longing and the echoes of ceremonial Rune Songs (with touches of Arabian microtonality gleaned from extensive time spent - like Peer Gynt - in Cairo, Egypt) is already a winner, but Langeland and producer Manfred Eicher have also surrounded her with some of Scandinavia's finest jazz improvisers, including: Arve Henriksen on trumpet, Trygve Seim on tenor and soprano saxophone, Markku Ounaskari on drums and percussion, and long-time collaborator Anders Jormin on an especially-tuned-in acoustic bass. The outcome of this exceptional collaboration is one that brings long-forgotten magic and a sense of wonder to light, while satisfying the discerning jazz aficionado with masterful play and interplay by the musicians involved.
At times soaring and majestic, at others quiet and nearly still as a pool of calm water deep in a forest, Sinikka Langeland's "Starflowers" is unforgettable with far too many highlights and welcome surprises to diminish by categorizing and listing. Better that listeners experience the mystery and magic for themselves, perhaps remembering their own youthful awe felt when lying under a sky of stars and pondering the immense, incomprehensible Universe that surrounds them.