Over the years, a disproportional number of great horn players have come out of Norway, from the likes of Jan Garbarek through Nils Petter Molvær, Arve Henriksen, Karl Seglem, Tore Brunborg and others, to the younger generation of Håkon Kornstad, Mathias Eick etc.
So when Daniel Herskedal releases his third album "Slow Eastbound Train" (Edition Records, 2015), it is only fair to ask if the world really needs yet another horn player from our little country in the North.
Well, I am, after all, Norwegian so maybe I should tread carefully here, but I still choose to answer my own question: "Yes, indeed".
Herskedal plays not one but two somewhat unusual horns as solo instruments, the tuba and the bass trumpet, which sets him apart from all other Norwegian horn players and most of the international ones as well.
Herskedal is a relatively young man from Molde, Norway. As many of his Norwegian colleagues, he has studied at the Music Conservatory in Trondheim, but has a master's degree from the Music Conservatory of Copenhagen, Denmark, where he now works as a teacher. He has been active in a number of bands and projects like Listen!, Kaktusch, Magic Pocket and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra with the likes of Erik Nylander, Marius Neset, Espen Berg and Erik Johannesen.
In 2010 he released his debut album "City Stories" (NORCD), containing music commissioned for the Moldejazz festival and with a cast of, among others, Per Jørgensen and Terje Isungset. Two years later he released the duo album "Neck of the Woods" (NORCD, 2012) with Marius Neset, an already established and well-known musician of the same generation as Herskedal.
The same year the Soddjazz festival commissioned a work from him, resulting in the album "Dagane" (NORCD, 2014) being performed by Helene Bøksle (vocals) and Marius Neset as soloists supported by a trio and a mini symphonic orchestra. All albums received very good reviews.
And now "Slow Eastbound Train" is receiving the same kind of reviews, and it certainly isn't undeserved.
Where "City Stories" was relatively free and open, suiting for musicians like Jørgensen and Isungset, and "Dagane" was more of a thoroughly composed cross-over album trying to incorporate both jazz, pop, folk and ethnic music, "Slow Eastbound Train" is a stripped down chamber music album focusing on sublime compositions with improvised elements. Sonically and musically, this is clearly his most accomplished album so far.
Herskedal is a musician with an obviously strong focus on composition, and there is no doubt that the compositions on this album are his best to date.
And he has picked a cast of musicians that really are able to bring out the intrinsic beauty in his music.
Percussionist Helge Andreas Norbakken should need no introduction, as he has graced a great number of projects and albums with his expansive and imaginative playing, for artists from Mari Boine to Jon Hassell.
The Trondheim Soloists are a very special chamber string orchestra with an outstanding ear for incredibly good arrangements.
The album starts out with "The Mistral Noir", where Herskedal plays a multitrack tuba theme in a loop, playing a solo bass trumpet over this. Here he clearly shows that he is every bit as skilled as more well-known musicians. Through the warmer and rounder sound of the bass trumpet, compared to the "standard” trumpet, he creates his own unique sound that makes him easily distinguishable from other horn players in the same genres.
"Rainfall" is a more up-tempo, funny little song where Herskedal and Dale doubles a theme on tuba and piano respectively, while the Trondheim Soloists provide a pizzicato backdrop and Norbakken spices it up with some light percussion.
"Monsoon Coming" is clearly inspired by eastern aesthetics, and the arrangement of the strings and tuba shows that Herskedal has matured tremendously as an arranger since his previous albums. Dale's intricate solo fits like a glove with the mood of the music.
"The Solar Winds' Effects on Earth" is a mouthful of a title, but the tune is a beautiful ballad, again over a looped tuba track, with Herskedal also soloing on tuba, while Dale and Norbakken support gently with sublime playing. The tune glides directly over in "Daniel's Dust Devil", a solo exercise for tuba that serves as an interlude before "Slow Eastbound Boat". Here Norbakken supplies a slow, repetitive, almost heavy, rhythm over which Herskedal and the strings doubles a theme before Herskedal's tuba solo again shows a range that we are not used to hear from this instrument (and sometimes even resembles whale song(!)).
The title track opens with a lyrical solo spot for Dale before Norbakken and the strings enter to create a sonic framework for Herskedal's main theme and tuba solo in the upper range.
This is first and foremost a very beautiful ballad, and Herskedal's haunting solo lifts the song to even greater beauty.
"Snowfall" lifts the tempo again as a contrast to the previous ballad, and is a light-hearted tune which lets Dale shine through his meticulous playing. The strings again provide a backdrop, but also double, with Herskedal for the main theme.
The title "Crosswind Landing" suggests a somewhat chaotic experience, and the tune itself follows up with a rhythmically complex and tight arrangement for percussion, strings and tuba.
"Bydlo" is the only tune not composed by Herskedal himself. Composed by 19th century romantic composer Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky, this is easily recognizable Russian music with Herskedal's solo tuba again floating gently over the rest of the ensemble in an arrangement that makes it fit in perfectly with the other tracks.
The album closes with my personal favorite, "Sea Breeze Front", where Herskedal is alone, laying down a multitrack loop that floats repeatedly like the waves on a shore, while Herskedal solos both on tuba and bass trumpet.
This is primarily a downright beautiful album from a musician that has matured a lot within a short timeframe. With "Slow Eastbound Train" he has found a format that suits him perfectly and that puts his skills as a composer, arranger, and player on display. This album will definitely be on the list of the most positive surprises of 2015.
Music lovers should keep Herskedal on the radar to see where he goes next, as this album certainly bodes well for the future.