by Ian Mann
January 21, 2019
An album that demonstrates great promise, despite its flaws.
ELDA featuring Kari Eskild Havenstrom
(Andrew Woodhead Music)
ELDA is an international collaboration featuring the duo Birmingham based musicians Andrew Woodhead (keyboards, pocket piano, electronics) and Aaron Diaz (trumpet, electronics) together with the Norwegian musician Kari Eskild Havenstrom (vocals, pocket piano, electronics).
Woodhead is a graduate of the Jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire and is a significant presence on the city’s music scene as both a musician and as an organiser. Besides ELDA Woodhead is also a member of the trio Snapdragon featuring vocalist Holly Thomas and reeds player Lluis Mather. I’ve also heard his playing in the very different groups of vocalist Anthony Marsden and saxophonist Claude Pietersen (the Zwolfton quintet). Other musicians with whom he has collaborated include trombonist Richard Foote, bassist Olie Brice and drummer Mark Sanders. Woodhead also organises the regular Fizzle free improvisation sessions held at The Lamp Tavern Digbeth, a series of events that attracts leading improvisers from Birmingham, London and beyond.
Diaz is also a Birmingham Conservatoire alumnus and has fronted his own Frank Zappa inspired septet Moon Unit. He currently leads the jazz/folk quartet Drawlight. Diaz has also been a key member of Sid Peacock’s Surge Orchestra and of the anarchic Birmingham based jazz/folk/world/punk crossover outfit The Destroyers. Currently he is also part of the twelve piece jazz/folk crossover ensemble Propellor and of the contemporary folk group Fair Rain (previously The Old Dance School). Diaz has also worked with the Midlands based brass ensembles Young Pilgrims and Bostin’ Brass. He also has strong connections with Manchester and has worked with drummer Johnny Hunter’s quartet and with the band Glowrogues.
ELDA takes its name from a Swedish word meaning to “electrify” or “set alight” and a version of the band has been around since at least 2011, the year that I saw Diaz, bassist Chris Mapp and drummer Mike Hurley perform under the name at Birmingham’s much missed Harmonic Festival. Later the same day Diaz collaborated with the Food duo of saxophonist Iain Ballamy and Thomas Stronen, a highly prestigious guest appearance for the trumpeter.
Diaz spent time living in Sweden, this sojourn leading to an abiding interest in Scandinavian and other folk musics. However electronics have also been an important part of the trumpeter’s music making, with musicians such as Arve Henriksen and the Food duo representing significant influences.
In more recent years ELDA has featured the duo of Diaz and Woodhead with the pair being joined for this album by Havenstrom. It’s a partnership that has its roots in the annual ‘Trondheim Jazz Exchange’ which sees the jazz students at Trondheim Conservatoire twinned with their Birmingham counterparts to create international collaborations, the results being premièred at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival. The British students then travel to Norway to perform at equivalent festivals there.
The Trondheim Jazz Exchange concerts at Cheltenham typically feature three ensembles, each usually consisting of two British and two Norwegian musicians. In 2013 pianist Woodhead was teamed in a group with vocalist Havenstrom and the pair have since forged a creative partnership, culminating in this recording. Havenstrom’s other credits include work with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and with the Norwegian tuba player, bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Kristoffer Lo.
“Shiny/Things” was recorded at engineer Luke Morrish Thomas’ studio in Birmingham in May 2016 with Woodhead commenting;
“This recording sees the trio exploring the boundaries between the worlds of jazz, improv, electronica and folk, as well as the ever changing relationship between composition and free improvisation”.
The album consists of nine short pieces, some written, others presumably wholly improvised. The trio’s sound is unmistakably ‘Scandinavian’, the mood ranging from the melancholic to the gently ethereal. With no recognised rhythm section the focus is very much on colour and texture with Havenstrom deploying her voice as an instrument and largely singing wordlessly.
Opening track “Vignette 1” establishes the mood with the drone of Havenstrom’s wordless vocal accompanied by the eerie, spacey sounds generated by Woodhead and Diaz, some of the timbres reminiscent reminiscent of those of Tibetan singing bowls or glass harmonica.
“Carre” features more conventional keyboard and trumpet sounds and sounds more ‘written’ than the opener. Havenstrom sings sweetly and wordlessly above Woodhead’s minimalist style keyboard figures and Diaz’s melodic trumpet,
“Vignette II” explores similar territory to the opener, albeit with more conventional keyboard and trumpet sounds, some of these heavily distorted.
I’m not certain what the date in “Mai (4/5/54)” alludes to, other than the fact that it’s far too early to be the birth date of any of these three! The music itself sounds largely written, with wordless voice, electric keyboard sounds and unadorned, comparatively straight ahead trumpet. The interplay between the three protagonists is melodic and tightly controlled and the resultant music is almost conventionally pretty.
“Vignette III” is more experimental with Havenstrom treating the sound of her voice to take it into the kind of areas occupied by the likes of Julie Tippetts and Sidsel Endresen, the latter almost certainly an influence on the young vocalist, I would surmise.
“Shiny”, effectively the first of two title tracks, is a song with an English lyric, coolly delivered by Havenstrom against a backdrop of looped electronica. It’s a highly effective piece of avant pop, with ELDA here reminiscent of that other Anglo-Norwegian electro-jazz/vocal ensemble Eyes of a Blue Dog, the trio featuring trumpeter Rory Simmons, vocalist Elisabeth Nygard Pearson and drummer/sound artist Terje Evensen. Another possible influence, I’d hazard.
“Threes” continues the ethereal mood, initially in an instrumental context with Diaz’s long looped trumpet lines floating above spacey keyboard textures and electronica. Havenstrom adds wordless vocals to the album’s lengthiest track, with the piece taking a more anthemic turn in its closing stages as Havenstrom’s voice soars in the manner of Norma Winstone.
“Solos” acts first as a vocal showcase for the versatile Havenstrom who brings the influence of Norwegian folk music to an impressive performance featuring her pure, clear wordless voice underpinned by the subtle drone of electronica. At times the music enters into the realm of the Sami joik, this further embellished by remarkable electronic manipulations.
Next it’s the turn of Diaz’s heavily treated trumpet, with the influence of Henriksen and Supersilent coming to the fore.
Finally Woodhead conjures a range of unsettling colours and textures from his various keyboards in a manner similar to his 2016 solo album “Pocket Piano Improvisations”.
The album concludes with “Things”, the companion piece to “Shiny”, and another song with an English lyric. “You always cling to shiny things” sings Havenstrom, sounding a little like Bjork as Woodhead’s keyboards shimmer gently and Diaz blows long, melancholic, flugel like trumpet lines.
As an album “Shiny/Things” is uneven, but it does offer much to enjoy, particularly in the second half of the album.
The first five tracks, the three improvised “Vignettes” and two composed pieces “Carre” and “Mai” are much of a muchness with little variation in terms of mood and dynamics. In the absence of a conventional rhythm section the music can sound a little bloodless at times. It’s interesting enough, but a little directionless, and one is tempted to observe that there are other acts who play this kind of thing rather more convincingly.
For me things start to pick up with “Shiny”, a highly effective electro ballad, while the following “Things” possesses a stronger narrative arc than the earlier wordless pieces.
I’m also impressed by the individual features on “Solos” which sees Havenstrom taking the chance to demonstrate the full range of her often extraordinary voice in an authentically dramatic setting. Diaz and Woodhead are similarly impressive as they allow themselves free rein on their respective instruments.
“Things” is another haunting and beautiful song and a very effective way to close an album that demonstrates great promise, despite its earlier flaws.
Notwithstanding my reservations this is still a group that I’d like to take the opportunity of seeing in live performance. That opportunity may come in March 2019 when ELDA undertake a short UK tour with dates as below;
ELDA ft. Kari Eskild Havenstrøm - Sheffield (TBC)
Thursday, March 7, 2019
7:30 PM 8:30 PM
ELDA ft. Kari Eskild Havenstrøm - Birmingham
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
7:30 PM 8:30 PM
The Lamp Tavern Birmingham UK
ELDA ft. Kari Eskild Havenstrøm - London
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
8:00 PM 9:00 PM
The Vortex Jazz Club
ELDA ft. Kari Eskild Havenstrøm - Manchester (TBC)
Thursday, March 14, 2019
7:30 PM 8:30 PM
The Noise Upstairs Manchester
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