Don’t be fooled by Birgit Brenner’s intriguing eliminant artwork, Josefine Cronholm is definitely an artist of flesh and blood. Having emerged in 2002 to broad-scale acclaim that led to numerous awards and collaborative endeavours with the likes of Django Bates and Marilyn Mazur, Cronholm’s reputation in her native Scandinavia is of a colourful, quirky and impressionistic singer capable of ducking the confines of the crowded Nordic jazz scene. If her first two releases Wild Garden and Paradise Hotel seemed to be the work of a strange and mercurial spirit that impression is only underlined further by Songs Of The Falling Feather, an album inspired by the birth of her second child, the death of her father, and by the natural wonder of her native land (Cronholm grew up at the silent heart of a Swedish forest, and sounds like it too).
Returning after a five-year absence, Cronholm has gone back to the source of her being to tap into a vibe that’s uncluttered and sophisticated, bridging the gap between lush chamber pop, stark folk and jazz with a personal touch that feels pure and intuitive rather than forced. Atop these compositions, Cronholm’s fragile voice arises as light and graceful as the falling feather of the title, perhaps to be savoured as a delicacy at first but soon becoming warm and familiar over successive listens. Cronholm demands rather than commands attention; there’s no question of listening to these songs as background music or piecemeal, their wealth of subtleties only apparent if rapt attention is paid. Once paid, however, the songs glint out from the forest floor like precious diamonds that will handsomely refund in their own delightful currency of soothing spiritual nourishment.
‘Paralysed’ starts things off on a superb, if unorthodox, note as Cronholm’s sensational voice wends its way through a dramatic string quartet backing to a place of airy solemnity, and is followed by the almost entirely acoustic ‘Seagulls’, a dreamy, shimmering creation that revels in a troubling yet luxurious atmosphere. More spacious still is the beautifully contemplative ‘Fountain’; built around voice, soft percussion and abstracted piano notes, its transcendent simplicity gives free rein to the listener’s imagination as it races to associate its own remembered landscapes to the music. Cronholm’s parsimonious approach doesn’t always lead to such startling results (‘Winter Princess’ is perhaps as conventional as its title suggests) but the finesse of the players is enough to hold attentions to ransom until the next moment of sublimity hurriedly arrives.
The album’s second half goes from strength to strength, starting with the seductive ‘Angel’. Recalling the work of fellow Swede Jeanette Lindström, it’s a jazzy ballad moulded to a folk aesthetic and sung to breath-stealing perfection. ‘Quiet’ continues in the same vein with perhaps even more nuance and organic presence as trumpeter Gunnar Halle once again adds so much colour, while ‘Sailor’ impresses an ambient yet gutsy piano ballad, arousing strong emotions without so much as breaking a sweat. These shivers of happiness are contrasted by the return of ‘Lonely Is The Heart’ to more classical, soothing terrain with the warm strains of woodwinds before the seven-minute ‘Mystery’ brings the album to a stunning and mistily enchanting close.
With this intensely personal comeback Cronholm has reached new heights in modern vocal jazz. Songs Of A Falling Feather is a minor masterpiece and, when all is said and done, certain to be hailed among the best jazz crossover albums of the year.
[ACT; March 30, 2010]
Adapted from the original review in French here.
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