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Written in fRoots issue 358, April 2013

Alla Drömmars Sång

Country & Eastern CE25 (2013)

An album with Sweden’s Lena Willemark on it is always headed for the top of the review pile. She’s one of the world’s great singers; on stage or record, the honest, unstaged passionate intensity of her spun-gold-haired figure commanding the extremes of vocalisation or bowing fiddle with wild tension makes her the only place to look or listen.
     And she always works with great musicians: in Frifot with Ale Möller and Per Gudmundson, here as another trio with two long-time collaborators of both hers and Möller’s: Jonas Knutsson on soprano and other saxes and Mats Öberg, who I remember seeing with Ale at Musik Vid Siljan handling electronic keyboards with Stevie Wonder-like skill, but here plays fluid piano and, late in the album, a touch of harmonica.
     That line-up might suggest this isn’t purely traditional music, and indeed it isn’t; Lena, with all the roots of a traditional singer from Ålvdalen, has always sung jazz too. Lest that J-word should frighten away readers whose interest in reading this mag is the F-word, I should point out that jazz in Norway and to some extent in Sweden has over the years inhaled a lot of fresh northern air and evolved far from America to become a spacious thing imbued with landscape and the shapes of folk-song and church music. In these countries of relatively small population, there’s a healthy amount of contact between musicians in the various genres, leading to collaborations built on mutual respect and understanding. This has led to a developing shared regional tradition, more natural and viable than the mostly short-lived jazz-folk meetings that have tended to happen elsewhere.
     These three are all so fluent across the genres that improvisation and top-class Nordic jazz is interwoven with the traditional material, be it an Ålvdalen dialect saying from Lena made into a song by Jonas or a polska with Lena’s fiddle in full traditional style yet able to morph into ecstatic improvisation, or her viola warmly tracking Knutsson’s arcing sax lines. The complete integration embraces tradition, their own compositions or an extended development of All My Loving, sung in English, one of Lennon and McCartney’s most straightforwardly poppy up-tempo songs transformed into a warmly intimate love song. In Lena’s singing there’s no sense of ‘now traditional – now jazz’, nor any suggestion of copying; she’s unlike anybody else, in any genre.


© 2013 Andrew Cronshaw

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