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Sinikka Langeland - Wolf Rune (ECM)

2 June 2021

Norwegian songstress Sinikka Langeland is known for taking the traditions of Scandinavian folk – particularly that from the Finnskogen, Norway’s “Finnish forest” – and putting them in jazz-like contexts, working with improvisers to make music of unusual and uncommon beauty. (See 2015’s The Half-Finished Heaven for a sterling example.) On Wolf Rune, her sixth album for ECM, she goes it alone. Armed only with three varieties of kantele (a Finnish table harp that’s like an autoharp, but with a much wider range) and her rich voice, Langeland essays a program of traditional and original tunes, plus poetry set to her own music.

“Row My Ocean” (text by Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse) is a prime example of Langeland’s aesthetic at its best, as a strong melody, unusual but appealing tones and her sonorous singing combine into a mesmerizing performance. It’s hardly the only highlight, however – “When I Was the Forest” (words adapted from the work of thirteenth century German philosopher and mystic Meister Eckhart, and on which she plays her kantele with an E-bow), “Don’t Come To Me With the Entire Truth” (lyrics by Norwegian horticulturist and poet Olav H. Hauge) and “The Eye of the Blue Whale” (libretto by herself) manage the remarkable feat of sounding both ancient and modern. She makes magic with the kantele-focused tunes as well, particularly on “The Girl in the Headlands,” “Winter Rune,” the two “Kantele Prayers” and the traditional “Polsdance from Finnskogen.”

After almost forty minutes of drawing us into a unique Nordic universe, Langeland draws the program to a close with the title track, a melodic benediction that sends the listener back out into the mundane world, changed for the better for the experience.