“Close your eyes before you open up your mind.” Words of advice to Swedish singer Emilia Mårtensson from her Slovenian grandmother, Ana, and a useful tip for us as well as we listen to Mårtensson’s second album. Ana is the inspiration for it, and also a dedicatee of the song that bears her name and includes those lyrics.
Mårtensson reflects throughout this album upon family and friends, her heritage both in Sweden and Slovenia, fellow musicians and her influences in her current home, London. There is a Swedish traditional song that is the suicide note of a broken-hearted 18-year-old girl to her parents; there is fellow songwriter Barnaby Keen’s Learnt From Love, written for his parents; there is Moffi’s Song, written by Mårtensson for her grandfather; and a song she wrote for a good friend’s wedding.
There is a lovely feel to the whole album with lots of space in Alex Bonney’s recording for Mårtensson’s smoky tones to swirl about unhindered. And that theme, including a return of the title tune later on, gives it great cohesion while still leaving room for variation. So Joe Henderson’s Black Narcissus, to which she adds her own lyrics, gives Mårtensson the chance to take flight and swing at the same time, and Paul Simon’s Everything Put Together Falls Apart reflects her love of the great ’70s singer-songwriters.
She has just the right voice for this intimate, reflective, heart-felt material, and cushioning support from the duo partner on her first album, pianist Barry Green, Sam Lasserson on double bass and Adriano Adewale on percussion. Some tunes include string quartet arrangements, mostly by co-producer Rory Simmons, for The Fable String Quartet.
Emilia Mårtensson is by no means the only Scandinavian who brings the dual loves of traditional folk music and jazz into a highly original modern style full of potential. It makes me wonder why more British musicians don’t look to the rich folk traditions of these islands. Actually, when I think of the Celtic-tinged saxophone solos of Tommy Smith and the compositions of Laura Jurd, I suppose some of the most interesting are doing just that. Looking back can be very useful in order to look forward anew.
Here is a taste:
Categories: CD review