I have to hold my hands up here. When I was sounded out about reviewing this album I was a little daunted about the prospect. While we listen to some serious stuff on NMC this offering from the pianist and composer Jacob Anderskov is high class material indeed, somewhere on another level.
It reminds me of when I was a young stud (ha!) and working in the airline business. I had to host a global convention social evening in Vienna Town Hall during which a musical interlude was provided by a Viennese high society string quartet, the same one you see on the New Year’s Day concert from that city if you watch it. The place was dripping with the opulence on show in Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’ video.
The previous night I’d been in the Cloggers Arms in Oldham drinking too much bitter and watching a punk band and my head was still there if you get my drift. My hosting was the worst since Mick Fleetwood and Samantha Fox’s at the Brit Awards in 1989.
Jacob Anderskov’s work, partly instrumental, and partly vocal (in Danish) could have put me back into that embarrassing predicament but it turned out rather differently, or at least I hope so.
With over 25 albums to his name Jacob is recognised as a transformative force in contemporary music. This album, ‘I sang’, ventures into engaging in dialogue with Denmark’s quintessential ‘Højskolesangbogen’, which translates as ‘The high school songbook’, and which is a late 19th-century collection of sing-a-longs, folk songs, and hymns which remains tightly woven into the fabric of Danish cultural identity.
When I read that I realised that we have had something similar here several times in the past, from a group of Swedes centred on and around the duo Le Lac Long 814 whose collective expertise includes melding Swedish poems with French melodies and revamping traditional Swedish songs from centuries past.
So with that in mind I ventured into the 10-track ‘I Sang’ and discovered something that is part sophisticated jazz supper club, part experimental studio (musically and vocally), part cocktail bar piano and vocal, and part surreal film score (think of a sequel to ‘1984’ and you’ll be on your way to imagining it).
The thing is that all of the above can and does turn up on a single track. There’s ‘cutting edge’ and then there’s this.
The sample track here, ‘Danmark, nu blunder den lyse nat’ (‘Denmark, now the bright night is dozing off’ according to Mr Google, which doesn’t tell me much), is one of several singles released prior to the album and indeed was the lead one. Of it Jacob says, it is a “radically reconfigured version…as you have never heard it before.” I don’t think anyone will pick an argument with him over that.
The original song lyrics by Thøger Larsen (born 1875) are written in, and are a description of, the landscape and the summer nights in the exact area Jacob grew up in. Like the album the song is as much about, as he says, the dream of, the idea of, and the memory of the time. He talks about this version being ‘opened up’ to allow access by “existential dimensions to the material, beyond or beneath the regular approaches.”
It seems to be formless, a series of piano notes with semidetached percussion, with no discernible time signature and around which there is something akin to a Christmas carol sing-a-long. Or is it a deeper church service, the Church of Latter Day Zoroastrians? Or are they devil worshippers?
I’m not just rambling here. You could put all sorts of interpretations on it. And then, lo and behold, at the second hearing I pick out a passage that could have come from Emerson and Palmer on ‘Take a Pebble’ albeit heavily sedated.
There’s a great deal going on in this song, more still on the album and if intellectual stimulation through music is your bag you’ve come home. For sure you won’t have heard anything like it before. I certainly haven’t.
‘I Sang’ is out now on April Records.
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