CD REVIEW: Daniel Herskedal - Slow Eastbound Train

Daniel Herskedal - Slow Eastbound Train
(Edition Records EDN1057. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)

Norwegian tuba player Daniel Herskedal turned heads in 2012 with the release of his outstanding duo album Neck of the Woods – a revelatory collaboration with friend and musical compatriot, saxophonist Marius Neset. Now, for much-anticipated follow-up Slow Eastbound Train, it is piano, percussion and chamber string orchestra that join him to broaden the creative possibilities.

The vast Scandinavian landscapes of Herskedal's homeland are never far away in his panoramic compositions, and these latest creations brim with distinct, filmic themes of journeying amidst climatic forces. This is textural, shifting, impressionistic jazz imbued with folkish melodies and improvisation, which Herskedal and colleagues – Eyolf Dale, Helge Andreas Norbakken and Norway's renowned Trondheim Soloists – deliver with clarity and, frequently, a pressing sense of momentum.

It is often remarked upon that the tuba is an unlikely solo instrument (especially in improvisatory spheres), due to its great physicality and, presumably, the wider embouchure required – but there are evidently no such barriers for the Norwegian, which the serenity, fire and apparent confidence of his live performances impressively bear witness to. Herskedal's instrumental capabilities are enhanced by sensitive multiphonics (often generated by his own voice) and effective electronic layering/looping, subtly coaxing from his tuba – as well as the perhaps lesser-known bass trumpet – echoic, transcendent majesty.

Vivid in its storytelling, the title track's elegant rail travel is portrayed by a plaintive tuba melody and gently oscillating cello/string accompaniment, punctuated with percussive 'fishplate' clanking and ingeniously simulated 'track-crossing' quickening. The lilting swell of watery companion piece Slow Eastbound Boat is coloured by evocative, Oriental, unison portamento lines from the Trondheim Soloists whilst, delicately sun-kissed by Dale's spacial piano and Norbakken's crisply glinting rhythms, Herskedal's bass trumpet extemporisations seem to cry to an azure sky. And Snowflake briskly pirouettes to hard-edged upper strings and sparklingly modal jazz piano runs.

Droplet pizzicato strings announce Rainfall, whose bright, exotic cheerfulness is maintained by swirling piano and tuba whilst the intricate, shuffling percussion (rather than drum kit) confirms how well it suits the open timbres of this line-up. The comparative bleakness of The Solar Wind's Effect on Earth, represented by Herskedal's constantly eddying chordal overlays, evolves into a Debussyesque, piano-embellished wellspring before segueing into contrasting miniature Daniel's Dust Devil which bubbles mischievously to the leader's audaciously rapid lower-end technique. Crosswind Landing pulsates to a high-energy groove reminiscent of Kronos's world music adventures; and Mussorgsky's Bydlo (from Pictures at an Exhibition) makes an appearance, the ominous trundling of the original tuba tune improvised up into high vocal range.

An album that reveals more of Herskedal's individualistic intent for this grand master of the brass family, Slow Eastbound Train is, by turns, atmospheric, thrilling and thoroughly enchanting.

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