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Wednesday, 22 February 2017 20:44

The Roc – Daniel Herskedal

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Our favourite tuba player rocs our world with an early contender for album of the year.

The Roc is Daniel Herskedal’s follow-up to his superb Slow Eastbound Train (2015). The musical line-up has evolved somewhat; the original core of Herskedal (tuba and bass trumpet), Eyolf Dale (piano) and Helge Andreas Norbakken (percussion) are all present and correct but the extensive string section featured is now replaced by two string players: Bergmund Waal Skaslien (viola ) and Svante Henryson (cello and octobass).  This change has facilitated a more integrated approach to the strings rather than the dramatic presence in the previous album.  The style of the compositions has also evolved, if less dramatically so, and there is a consistent Arabic quality to the music, inspireded by trips to Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. The track titles reflect this in reference to places, the music or mythology of the region.

Initially sounding quite Western, the restrained The Seeds of Language increasingly intersperses Arabic influenced phrases; suggestive perhaps of Herskedal’s own transitional experience? Herskedal’s emotive compositions and tight arrangements create immersive soundscapes.  In the title track, it is possible to engage with The Roc’s flight and feel the grandeur and energy of this enormous bird. By contrast, Eternal Sunshine Creates a Desert is a calm, soothing piece, with an air of melancholia that the bass trumpet achieves so effectively. Kurd, Bayat, Nahawand to Kurd is a direct reference to the Arabic musical scales adopted.  In this effervescent piece, striding tuba counterposing wailing viola would seem an impossible matching, but it works so well – one of my favourites!  

Herskedal does seem to have a penchant for trains; perhaps travelling gives him the opportunity to compose? Hijaz Train Station is very evocative, close your eyes and you will be transported.  I am a huge fan of Norbakken’s whatever-it-takes percussive style and ability, and while it is a consistent component across the whole album, in Thurayya Railways its contribution provides the essential motion.

In The Afrit, the strings set the mood for this mythological beast, with piano and brass introducing a fair amount of visceral menace. There Are Three Things You Cannot Hide: Love, Smoke and a Man Riding On a Camel is a wonderful title.  Sliding strings take centre-stage and reach to screaming pandemonium, while Norbakken’s percussion IS the camel’s loping stride - another personal favourite!  .

The Kroderen Line is a reference to Norway’s heritage steam-train line and deviates from the Arabic influence. A light and lively rhythmic piece with all players taking turns with melodies and counter-melodies.

The album concludes with the romantically titled All That Has Happened, Happened As Fate Willed. Slow and stately strings and brass give a melancholic air, which the piano counters with stoical positivity. 

There is so much happening in this forty-eight minutes: expressive compositions, beautiful solos, concurrent counter-melodies, complex and engaging rhythms, all beautifully interlaced and dynamically arranged; each piece develops and unfolds to tell a story.  The Roc is one of those rare albums where appreciation grows with each hearing. 

As ever, Herskedal’s playing of tuba and bass trumpet is masterful and sublime but The Roc focuses less on this than in his previous album, concentrating more on the balanced interplay between all players. With the introduction of Skaslien and Henryson, Herskedal has found two extremely talented and sympathetic musicians who fit right in alongside the wonderfully restrained piano of Dale and the essential percussion from Norbakken.  The combination of so many low-register instruments may seem unorthodox, but gives the final sound a full timbre and expression that is a joy to hear.

The Roc is quite extraordinary – give it a listen!


(You can get a first lick of The Roc here:

- excerpt from The Seeds of Language)


Grae Shennan – February 7th, 2017


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