Friday 18 August 2023

Joel Lundberg's Odysseys and Apostrophes with pianist Kalle Stenbäcken

Joel Lundberg: Odysseys and Apostrophes; Kalle Stenbäcken
Joel Lundberg: Odysseys and Apostrophes; Kalle Stenbäcken

Swedish composer Joel Lundberg returns with a stream-of-consciousness-like musical journey that take us from impressionism and improvisation to late-night jazz.

Swedish composer Joel Lundberg has a diverse background; as a guitarist he toured with artists such as Debbie Harry and Mumford & Sons, he has a master's degree in composition and improvisation from the University of Gothenberg and as composer and arranger his work includes ambient music for the app Sleep Cycle. Lundberg released a disc of piano works, Music from a Room in 2020 [see my review]. Nos Lundberg is back with the pianist from that disc, Kalle Stenbäcken, with a new disc of piano music, Odysseys and Apostrophes.

The disc features eight pieces, The Flood, Sparks on the Horizon, Along the Waterway, Deceptive Perception, Ambiguous Plans, Endless Dichotomy, Ripples in the Doldrums and Dead Slow Mutiny, varying in duration between four and nine minutes. The CD booklet does not provide much explanation for the music, Lundberg wants you to think for yourself. So, for each piece there is a short, haiku-like text and an evocative image by Ola Lindgren Mellberg (who created the album cover).

So, for the first piece on the disc, Lundberg writes:

Great distance, in an instant
open water
Swept into the unknown

Not every text is obvious, so that for the third piece on the disc we have:

Days into months, years
struggling to hold course

But what of the music?

Lundberg describes the pieces as a stream-of-consciousness-like musical journey. His writing is evocative and tonal, there is a distinctly impressionistic feel to the music along with other intriguing hints. Moments of major/minor dichotomy suggest one set of impressions, yet movements like The Flood come with strong suggestions of Impressionism whilst Sparks on the Horizon has a distinctly jazz-ish feel. But listening to the whole set, we can hear a distinct personality. Perhaps improvisation is the key, these are composed works and Lundberg admits that he is not a pianist, so we are not listening to a pianist composer's noodling, instead these are thought-through, but still was a feel that the composer is improvising, going with the flow of emotions. 

The music in most of the pieces exists on the cusp between Impressionism, jazz and improvisation, with Lundberg responding with freedom. The result is perhaps closest to that 19th-century classic, the characteristic pieces, each evoking a mood and Lundberg's haiku's help is to think about mood.

We end on an intriguing note, with Dead Slow Mutiny.
Ripples fading
into nothingness

This moves from darkly spare, through a late-night, laid-back jazz feel to something more romantic. This is one of those discs that is about the journey rather than the outcome, structure is less important than musical flow. Pianist Kalle Stenbäcken brings just the right amount of freedom and sympathy to the music, making you imagine he is creating it as you listen.

Joel Lundberg - Odysseys and Apostrophes
Kalle Stenbäcken (piano)

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