CD review by Tony Smith
Long ago my partner and I had the pleasure of forming a renaissance/ baroque ensemble with one of the handful of Australia’s viola da gamba players.
The gamba gets its name because unlike the cello which has a spike, it is held in the knees.
It also has six strings and frets of gut.
It originated in the French royal courts and many listeners would have heard some of the music of composer Marin Marais, such as when the prolific Jordi Savall plays ‘All the Mornings of the World’.
Jenny Eriksson is perhaps Australia’s best known gamba player.
Strictly speaking, it is the tenor viol which is the gamba.
A full ‘chest’ includes a soprano and a bass.
Jenny formed an ensemble named the ‘Marais Project’ which continues to produce beautiful music from the traditional repertoire as well as original works.
Voice and lute have proven suitable partners for the viol.
Jenny is also Australia’s only electric gamba player.
This modern instrument has led Jenny to a new set of collaborations in the group Elysian Fields.
The band comprises: Eriksson; Susie Bishop on fiddle and in voice; composer, arranger and saxophonist Matt Keegan; jazz pianist Matt McMahon; bassist Siebe Pogson; and, percussionist Dave Goodman.
This extremely talented and versatile ensemble seemingly effortlessly produced in 2020 this album of nine tracks, featuring in a perfectly natural combination, relaxing jazz and Swedish folksongs.
Jan Gunnar Hoff’s ‘Living’ is a fine ear catching opening and Matt Keegan’s ‘Cold Soul’ exploring the Scandinavian landscape is another compelling instrumental.
Eriksson’s ‘Lat till Far (Tune to my father)’ neatly encapsulates the cross fertilisation between jazz, folk song and viol.
Jenny was introduced to the tune by Tommie Andersson who plays lute in the Marais Project and they expanded it into a suite of Swedish folk songs.
Here, Matt McMahon’s arrangement uses a trio version with piano, violin and viol.
Eriksson’s arrangement of music from Hoff’s mass ‘Meditatus’ might also be classified as an instrumental with its sparse Latin lyrics.
Tommie Andersson’s influence is strong also in the songs he translates.
These include ‘Peace on Earth’, ‘We are going to put on a fun dance’ and ‘When I was in my eighteenth year’, all given poignant expression by Bishop, who continues to impress with her versatility and energy.
Susie has already demonstrated huge talent with composition and voice with Chaika and on fiddle and vocal harmony with Miriam Lieberman.
Here she shows the benefits of opera studies and trips to Sweden as she makes the world of Scandinavian song her own.
‘The Tragedy’ by Siebe Pogson was commissioned by Eriksson and he presents part of a longer work here with original lyrics in English.
‘Believe Beleft Below’ has been adapted by Eriksson from the playing of the Esbjorn Svensson Trio with words by Josh Haden.
It features Keegan’s sax and Bishop’s soprano voice.
It sounds very much like a lullaby and makes a perfect ending for a generally superb album.
‘Fika’ translates roughly as ‘time out with friends’.
The instrumentalists of Elysian Fields clearly have a common vision of their ensemble roles.
While the melodic soloists and arrangers on FIKA stand out at different times, it is worth mentioning the subtle rhythm backing of Dave Goodman.
It is rare to find drum work which is so unobtrusive and blends so well with instruments and voice.
The fine teamwork is a great credit to Jenny Eriksson’s ability to enthuse and channel such diverse and prodigious musical talent.