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Erik Dahl Ensemble — Gethenian Suite
(Svalka CD005, 2020, CD)

by Peter Thelen, Published 2021-07-26

Gethenian Suite Cover art

Dahl is a Swedish composer and arranger, playing piano and electronics, appearing here with his six-piece ensemble which includes Anna Cochrane (violin and viola), Tove Brandt (double bass), Andreas Thurfjell (alto and baritone saxophones), Anna Malmstrőm (clarinet), and William Soovik (drums and percussion), exploring what seems to be a hybrid sound of modern chamber and jazz, influenced as well by film soundtrack music, avant-garde sounds, and things even further afield. There aren’t too many things that sound like this, but when I consider those that come close, they all seem to hail from Scandinavia. The instrumental music on these thirteen tracks of Gethenian Suite were inspired by the work of writer Ursula Le Guin and her science fiction classic The Left Hand of Darkness. Generally the music here is relaxed and melodic, but can just as easily veer into dark and mysterious territory, evoking complex imagery and inspired mysticism. “Gethen” opens the show and sets the stage much like a soundtrack, as an example of what’s to come later, but it’s the three-minute “Parade” where the unforgettable sounds and melodies take over in dramatic form, where the instruments engage in a lively conversation.often reminiscent of artists like Univers Zero or orchestral Frank Zappa. The drums aren’t there only to keep cadence, but to take an active role in emphasizing the contour of the sound. Other standouts include “The Ice,” all eleven-plus minutes of it, where the gentle notes of piano give way to dreamy strings that eventually work the sound into a regular beat, going through a number of cycles as the piece progresses forward, landing in chaotic and noisy spaces from time to time. One of the most memorable pieces is “The Foretellers,” opening with a dreamlike piece for strings that segues to a bold melodic statement led by sax and clarinet that carries the listener through the remainder of the piece. The bass and percussion duel that opens “Pulefen Farm” offers one of the more interesting and avant-garde moments in the program. Barely over one minute,“Homecoming” is remarkable in that a peaceful and warm clarinet melody eventually gives way to something far darker and angular at its coda. “The Place inside the Blizzard” starts with a subtle piano melody and slowly makes way for a truly beautiful arrangement for the full ensemble. Gethenian Suite is one of those albums where something new and rewarding is discovered with each repeat spin.

Filed under: New releases, 2020 releases

Related artist(s): Erik Dahl

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