When we reviewed Lars Danielsson’s last solo recording, Liberetto II, we highlighted his distinctive compositions, which are informed by classical music and folk, as well as jazz. On his latest CD, a duo recording with his wife, the singer and composer, Cæcilie Norby, a number of those compositions are taken to the next level, with Norby adding her own lyrics. The folk and jazz influences that inspire them both also shine through, with well-chosen covers of songs by Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, and two songs by Abbey Lincoln.
The new CD, as the title suggests, is an album of duets. The recording is essentially an extension of the numerous concerts they have played together – hushed, intimate and personal, with subtle, sparse arrangements.
The album opens with Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, which appeared as an instrumental on Danielsson’s 2004 recording, Libera Me. The song is a regular feature of their live sets, and they worried that they would lose the spontaneity of their live performance. As a result, this track – and a number of others on the album – was recorded with just one take. The recording is excellent, as one has come to expect from ACT Records, capturing Danielsson’s wonderful, warm tone, and the subtlety of Norby’s singing. There is some lovely interplay between the two of them, including some soft singing beneath Danielsson’s bass solo.
That interplay can be heard again in the playful opening to Double Dance a new, jointly composed song, which demonstrates Norby’s impressive songwriting skills. Liberetto Cantabile sees Norby adding lyrics to one of Danielsson’s recent compositions, whilst Sad Sunday sees them tackle one of Norby’s own songs.
Norby has always been a fan of Abbey Lincoln, and shines a spotlight of two of her excellent songs here. And It’s Supposed To Be Love is the opening track of her 1999 album, Wholly Earth. Norby sticks quite closely to the original melody, and accompanies herself on backing vocals in the chorus, whilst Danielsson contributes a subtle arrangement and an effective marimba solo. Wholly Earth, from the same album, is given a more dramatic makeover, with Norby playing percussion and adding African-style vocal chants.
Wild Juju Child is another new composition, and features a passionate, bluesy vocal from Norby, whilst Toccata is more classically influenced, and sounds as though it was based on one of Danielsson’s own tunes. Sarabande is Danielsson’s solo spot on the album, and would not have sounded out of place on his beautiful Liberetto albums; here he plays both guitar and bass over a discrete electronic backing.
Two more covers round out the album. Wondrous Story is a gorgeous hymn by Nikolai Grundtvig, which may have been a leftover from Danielsson and Norby’s abandoned Christmas album. The lyrics are haunting, and rich in imagery, and this is one of my favourite songs on the album. Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah brings the album to a close. This is a brave choice, as the song has become somewhat over-exposed in recent years, but Norby and Danielsson strip the song back to its bare essentials, carefully avoiding the pitfalls of an overblown vocal or arrangement.
And it’s precisely that approach which makes this album so strong, and makes Norby and Danielsson such a perfect partnership.