Adrian JONES (b. 1978) Nybyggnan [38:21] Daniel REID (b. 1977) Ringar på vattnet [4:44] Traditional Tingsmarschen (arr. Adrian Jones) [8:41]
Daniel Reid (soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones)
Jeanette Eriksson, Sérgio Crisóstomo (violins); Adrian Jones (viola); Anna Wallgren (cello)
rec. February 2015, Kulturhuset, Ytterjäna, Sweden. BIS BIS-2119 [53:45]
This is one of those unusual recordings where you are not entirely sure what you’re getting yourself into, but once the terrain has been explored new and intriguing worlds open up. Both Adrian Jones and saxophonist Daniel Reid have strong connections with folk music. Reid is considered something of a pioneer as the first ever saxophonist to be accepted by the Department of Folk Music at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm.
Nybyggnan means ‘new building’, and this piece is subtitled ‘a folk music saxophone concerto in chamber music format’. Jones and Reid share an interest in new forms of expression in folk music, and this instrumentation works on numerous levels. The string writing is quite often in a folk idiom, but string quartet sonorities also maintain associations with classical music. The saxophone has strong crossover implications between jazz and classical music, with players such as Jan Garbarek blurring those boundaries even further. The composing here doesn’t stretch the instruments into unconventional performing styles, but Daniel Reid’s more improvisatory moments have a distinctly folk-like character and the fiddling and folksy double-stops from the quartet add country character to what after all are quite sophisticated musical creations.
Each of the five movements has its own title and character, but the general feel is more of a suite than a conventional concerto. The saxophone part is by no means always demanding in terms of virtuosity and is often subordinate to the quartet, including for large parts of the central movement, the dancing rhythms and sliding harmonies of which represent Gangar and pols in new outfits. This is one of the more jazzy of the movements, and the further Jones takes the harmonic language beyond traditional folk idioms the more we are kept guessing as to where the music will take us. Of course we always land back into something akin to folk-music. There is for instance a section towards the end of the next movement, A herding polska, that suggests distant bells from the strings, the lakeside landscape subsequently absorbed once again into previously heard material.
This is all tremendously entertaining and very finely wrought both by composer and performers, but by the end there is the feeling that there might be something missing. The spicy resonances and un-Western tuning of genuine folk instruments are qualities that particularly attract me, and in the end Nybyggnan leaves the impression of a highly skilled but ultimately rather safe and homogenised work that, rather than pushing boundaries, rather plays within the well-honed strengths of all concerned. It says what it wants to say and has many fabulous facets, but the whole isn’t breathtaking in terms of its range and ambition.
There are two nice fillers, Rings on Water being a poignant waltz written by Daniel Reid when his wife Emma was away on tour and he found himself at the piano staring out at the rain falling into puddles. Tingsmarchen or ‘The District Court March’ is an arrangement of a traditional tune played at the end of civic or church ceremonies in the town of Leksand. This is more of a formal dance than a march as you would expect further south, its slow rather gentle rhythmic progress creating a fine setting over which the saxophone improvises with sparing notes.
If you are a fan of folk music and are looking for some new sounds then this is a great place to discover some very refined and sophisticated expressions of the genre, mixed with contemporary and personal tonal additions that always remain respectful to this music’s idiomatic origins. If you prefer the more earthy authenticity of something like Emilia Amper’s Trollfågeln (review) then you may find yourself less satisfied by these results, but there is no denying the superlative quality of craftsmanship in the music on this release.