Pasado en Claro (ECM)

Anders Jormin / Lena Willemark / Jon Fält / Karin Nakagawa

Released January 2023

DownBeat Five-Star Review

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About:

The creative partnership of bassist Anders Jormin and singer/violinist/violist Lena Willemark has brought forth special music over the last two decades.  Near the beginning of their association, first given exposure in 2004 with the album In Winds, In Light,  Jormin observed, “How Lena Willemark manages to preserve her local musical dialect and at the same time be so expressive, so personal, receptive and contemporary is a tremendous inspiration not only for me.”  Willemark, raised in the traditional music milieu of Sweden’s Älvdalen region had already demonstrated a capacity to go beyond the frontiers of ‘folk’ in her ECM recordings with Ale Möller, including Nordan and Agram. The work with Anders Jormin became a logical next step.

After a productive collaboration on Jormin’s oratorio Between Always and Never, Anders and Lena introduced a new project, joined by Japanese koto player Karin Nakagawa on the 2015 ECM album Trees of Light. US magazine Stereophile praised its “music of bracing originality, strength, grace, darkness, light, gravitas, wit, and utter attentiveness to each other’s silences and sounds”.

Now, with the addition of drummer Jon Fält, Anders’s long time comrade in the Bobo Stenson Trio, the group has expanded its improvisational range. Many creative ideas are explored on Pasado en claro, emerging from its juxtaposition of sung poetry and musical interaction.  Jormin casts his net wide, bringing together texts from ancient Chinese and Japanese sources with contemporary Scandinavian poetry, also setting words by Mexican writer Octavio Paz and by Petrarch, lyric poet of Renaissance Italy.

The resourceful Willemark sings this cross section of world verse and adds her own songs to the programme.  For all its broad scope, however, the music retains its own group logic through its combining of voice, fiddle, koto, bass and percussion.  The sparse, archaic sounds of the koto, in particular, seem to open up new spaces in which collective creativity can flower. As Anders Jormin explains it: “When each musician’s unique musical dialect, in curiosity and with open listening ears, blends and communicates, something stronger than our four individual voices may awake. Something happens that in advance is not decided or controlled.” The outcome: “carefully crystallized and heartfelt music”.

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Anders Jormin, born in Jönköping, Sweden, has recorded prolifically for ECM since the early 1990s. In addition to his albums as a leader for the label – Xieyi, In winds, in light, Ad Lucem, Trees of Light – he has appeared on albums with the Bobo Stenson Trio, including Reflections, War Orphans, Serenity, Cantando, Goodbye, Indicum and Contra la Indecisión (a new Stenson Trio album, Sphere, is in preparation).  Jormin, furthermore, can be heard on albums with Charles Lloyd, Tomasz Stanko, Don Cherry, Sinekka Langeland, Jon Balke, Marilyn Mazur, and Ferenc Snétberger.  Through all these endeavours,his improvisational imagination and profound feeling for melody are in evidence.  

Lena Willemark, born in the Swedish village of Evertsberg,  has steadily been expanding her range over the years, from folk through jazz to freer improvising – always keeping a focus on the concept of music as a storyteller’s art.  The poems and song lyrics she gives voice to here share a vividness of imagery. As for instance when Lena’s own “The Woman of the Long Ice”  precedes Tomas Tranströmer’s “Kingdom of Coldness”, the latter with its snapshots of “jingling tambourines of ice” and “high tension lines/taut in cold’s brittle kingdom/north of all music.”

 Karin Nakagawa, born in Tokyo, began playing piano at 3, and took up the highly specialized 25-string koto at 12. Two years later she began giving concerts of her own compositions.  Today she is recognized for her improvisational versatility  and her ability to integrate the essence of her sound, with its roots in ancient Japanese tradition, in the most diverse contemporary contexts. Jon Fält, born in Gävle, Sweden, first gained international attention when he joined Bobo Stenson and Anders Jormin in time for the album Cantando (2007) taking over a role previously addressed by two of jazz’s finest  drummers – Jon Christensen and Paul Motian.  Fält impressed  immediately with his own sinuous approach to rhythm and the multiple ways in which he can provide running percussive commentary on the musical action.

Track Listing:

1. Mist Of The River (Ouyang Xiu / Anders Jormin) 7:11

2. Blue Lamp (Jörgen Lind / Anders Jormin) 4:27

3. Ramona Elena (Lena Willemark) 6:55

4. The Woman Of The Long Ice (Lena Willemark) 5:41

5. Wedding Polska (Lena Willemark) 2:54

6. Kingdom Of Coldness (Tomas Tranströmer / Anders Jormin) 5:18

7. Angels (Lena Willemark) 4:20

8. Petrarca (Francesco Petrarca / Anders Jormin) 4:58

9. Pasado En Claro (Octavio Paz / Anders Jormin) 3:32

10. Glowworm (Yamabe no Akahito / Anders Jormin) 7:22

11. Returning Wave (Anna Great Wide / Anders Jormin) 5:15

Personnel:

Anders Jormin: double bass

Lena Willemark: vocals, violin, viola

Karin Nakagawa: 25-string Koto

Jon Fäl: drums, percussion

Recorded October 2021, Studio Epidemin, Göteborg

Engineer and co-producer: Johannes Lundberg

Executive-Producer: Manfred Eicher

Cover Photo: Fotini Potamia

Design: Sascha Kleis

Review:

Songs featuring the work of Mexican writer Octavio Paz and Petrarch, an Italian sonneteer of the early Renaissance, inform Pasado en Claro, a seamless merging of music and poetry that enhances both expressions. Nakagawa’s zither-like, 25-string koto launches the album with the vibrant and exotic “Mist Of The River,” ushering in Willemark, a vocalist of astonishing elasticity and strength. Related sonic surprises await on “Kingdom Of Coldness.” There, bass growl and koto clang underpin Willemark’s plaintive vocals as the tune stacks textures like a person adding layers of clothing to prepare for a winter walk. This quartet’s music is stark and invigorating, a startle around every corner. It conjures oxymoronic descriptors, like kabuki flamenco out of the North.

Carlo Wolff (DownBeat)