Striving to restore galactic order, Göteborg composer evokes a sci-fi universe in an array of avant-garde detail.
There’s nothing novel in setting instrumental opuses around the content of a literary work – Bible-based classical symphonies and the likes of “1984” by Anthony Phillips may testify to that – yet such attempts have rarely graced jazz, let alone way more experimental, context. The lack of precedents couldn’t stop Erik Dahl from putting his personal spin on Ursula Le Guin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness”; more so, for this project the Swedish musician ventured out, for the first time ever, with a collective of his own. The coterie of kindred spirits are able to evoke a panoramic sci-fi image with a minimal, albeit nuanced, passage, which is why there’s no need for following the book’s storyline – as opposed to sipping its mood.
Still, while the record’s tracks titles refer to its particular scenes, the music per se – from the piano-pierced hum of “Gethen” whose melancholy appears enhanced with viola to “The Ekumen” where chamber atmosphere and folk frivolity reign – will be open to the listener’s interpretation, yet if the solemnity of “Parade” feels compromised once clarinet and drums stumble cinematically through the fairground to rupture Dahl’s ivories, “The Envoy” has elegiac woodwind at the fore and the ripples of “The Place Inside The Blizzard” eventually form a mesmeric melody. And when Anna Cochrane’s strings inhabit the same space as Anna Malmström and Andreas Thurfjell’s reeds, rendering “Karhide Prelude & Fugue” strangely immersive, an otherworldly kind of psychedelic harmony and a sort of weird serenity take hold… only to allow the worry enter “Orgoreyn” and stage a scintillating dirge in there.
Yet after Tove Brandt’s contrabass and William Soovik’s percussion have slowly ignited “Pulefen Farm” which Erik’s keyboard runs move towards orchestral grandeur and engage the entire ensemble in following his lead into abstractness, the locale for “The Ice” – an initially glacial, electronica-stricken epic that waltzes all over progressive rock territory and exposes the collective’s impressive dynamic sway. An already-familiar tune returning in “Homecoming” before passing the momentum to “Estraven” whose immediate balladry is reaching out to a radio audience, but “The Ekumen” should bring the trip to a close in the most upbeat manner and prompt fresh converts to the Swedes’ case this album must gather to get back to the beginning and start the journey anew.
Because it’s a minor masterpiece.