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Saturday, 25 July 2020 19:36

Daniel Herskedal - Call For Winter

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A fantastic return to expectations.

Call for Winter is the latest album from Norwegian musician and composer, Daniel Herskedal.  Herskedal is a truly masterful player of both the tuba and bass trumpet, and in this solo album we are treated an amazing exposition of multi-tracked works utilizing only these instruments.  Astonishingly, this album was composed and recorded by Herskedal during a two-week sojourn in a remote area of Norway close to the Swedish border, seeking isolation from the normal daily routine and inspiration from the natural beauty of these frozen highlands (while occasionally helping the local Sami herding reindeer). This immediately preceded his return to isolate from coronavirus. The result is an incredible emotional interpretation of the landscape and wildlife and celebration of his reflective experience.

Våkenatt (wakeful night?) opens the album with a quiet repeating phrase on bass trumpet; rumbling tuba rises slowly, together creating the foundation of this sedate piece. A second trumpet introduces the breathy melody of this sedate piece reflecting the imagery of clear, starry heavens. Title track Call For Winter opens with a strident, ghostly trumpet fanfare, played over an ominous bass line.  The piece picks up rhythmically when Herskedal introduces his signature style of accentuated mouth noises, bringing a percussive element into the mix.  The scoring of winds in Time Of Water, is reminiscent of a church organ and lends a hymn-like quality to the piece, with echoey trumpet providing the sonorous melody.  

You can view a video with the track here:  

The Hunting Golden Eagle can be imagined soaring serenely above its fiercely panting prey, struggling to flee.  A vivid depiction of this crimson event, the ending silence defines the outcome.  Lynx Tracks is a quiet unaccompanied tuba solo that torments the instrument, extorting pitches and accompanying sounds as only this virtuoso can do. Rhythmic Glacier Hiking has a repetitive trudging quality that emotes the long trek over barren terrain.  Ice Crystals is tightly orchestrated with a very dense sound over which the trumpet curls with a plaintive voice.  Simple chanting motifs repeat and give The Cliff Nest a trance–like feel.  Overlain melodies from trumpet and tuba compete like squabbling birds, building to a brief melee before quieting.  

It is amazing how Daniel Herskedal can capture events or situations in such an emotional way.  I have come to believe that this is an adoption of the Sami oral tradition of joiking – where the joiker depicts a creature or place through song and sound - transmuted into his own unique style of playing that accentuates and incorporates incidental mouth sounds into the piece, lending rhythm, tonality and effects. This is best demonstrated in Arctic Fox Tracks; a short solo piece on tuba, very rhythmic with huge tonal variation between phrases, that perfectly captures the essence of this energetic creature trotting over the arctic landscape.  Permafrost is a dramatic piece; heavy breathing and purring mouth noises add effect to this majestic soundscape.  Rhythmic breathing lends excitement to the upbeat The Vernal Equinox, capturing the elation of approaching spring.  This piece is quite reminiscent of The Mistral Noir from an earlier album (Slow Eastbound Train).  The album concludes with sedate By The Fire; a wistful piece, reflecting on what has passed.

Herskedal’s music is always hard to classify, classical elements are evident in the structure and arrangements, melodies are often simple and folk-like, whilst his creative soloing provides the jazzy element.  His writing is dynamically varied; sometimes the silences can speak as loudly as the notes.  His beautiful 2015 album, Slow Eastbound Train was book-ended by The Mistral Noir and Sea Breeze Front, both pieces featuring multi-tracked versions of himself playing unsupported.  While subsequent albums (The Roc and Voyage) took him and his bandmates on a journey exploring arabic-influenced waters, Call For Winter sees him revisiting and developing on the solo, multi-tracked element.  The result is a series of pieces that are pared back to their essential, inspirational core.  While there are two completely solo tuba pieces, most tracks are fugal in nature, one instrument setting a theme, which is taken up, with variations, in different voices.

How do these works compare with his earlier band-based albums?  On first consideration, writing for only tuba and bass trumpet may seem unbalanced and self-limiting, but the truth is they harmonise amazingly well together, both have complex sounds and Herskedal makes use of their full register to achieve a balance across the scales and the amazing tones he can achieve seem to provide an endless source of variety.  The total effect is so full and rich that you forget that there are only two instruments involved and not some more elaborate combination, including synthesiser.   This album is a very different beast from earlier albums, more sombre and reflective compared to their energy and abandon.  My best comparison would be with John Surman’s Road to St Ives, another multi-tracking solo album with intricate scoring.  Call For Winter pares back on the superfluous to expose the creative source of inspiration.

This is a truly outstanding piece of work.


Grae Shennan – June 9th, 2020


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