Bassist and composer Anders Jormin has been one of the more restless and adventurous musical talents on the ECM roster. He's worked with numerous jazz talents from his long associations with Bobo Stenson, Charles Lloyd, and Tomasz Stanko, and from his composing for brass ensemble. This project is off the map. Commissioned to write new sacred music for premiere in the cathedral in Västerås, Switzerland, he composed a series of works in which he used the existing poems of Swedish writers like Harry Martinson, Johannes Ederfelt, Lotta Olsson-Anderberg, and the great Pär Lagerkvist, as well as those of William Blake. He also wrote his own songs for the project. His focus was on the "beyond" (which was the project's original title) and needless to say, with these writers as inspirations, his concentration was anything but monotheistic. The band he assembled for this outing, recorded in the Organ Hall of the Musikhögskolan in Götenberg, includes pianist Marilyn Crispell, vocalist Lena Willemark, organist Karin Nelson, and percussionist Raymond Strid. Jormin, of course, plays bass. This is a startling record, literally unlike anything ever heard before. These players make wonderful use of space and dynamic, and the manner in which they interact is as one. The strange union of a piano and a church organ is one of the most compelling elements of this record, Crispell's uncanny intuition to bring "song" to her improvisational talent is rich yet restrained and unconventionally lyrical. Nelson's ability to have such an unwieldy instrument move quietly through some of these songs and shift her focus into a dialogue with Crispell is striking and original. But it is Willemark's singing -- utterly uncharacteristic of her Swedish folk-oriented material -- that takes the listener's breath away. As this band focuses on creating a backdrop that underscores the written lines, Willemark falls headlong into them. She uses the complete physicality of her voice to communicate not only the nuance of the lyric -- in Swedish and English -- but uses it to point into the depths of the heart and into the formless void that is beyond the reach of understanding, the same place these texts direct themselves toward. Whether she is whispering, crooning, sighing, or grunting, her attempt to express what is unspeakable flows effortlessly into an undefined terrain given shape and shape-shifting form by the other musicians. This record may not be for everyone, but it is surprisingly accessible and has literally no new age connotations. This is music that may approximate the harmony of the spheres, but it does so from the ground -- from the heart of the heart of the matter -- up.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek