There is a fragile beauty; an almost mystical whisper of yearning that informs the music of Emilia Mårtensson. It is the same beauty heard in the rustle of spring; the elemental creek of bough, the whine of the wind and above all the brittle snap of heartache, for there is something of the wood sylph, the naiad that enlightens every rapturous breath that Ms. Mårtensson takes. Somehow the music comes out in little gasps and cries and in songs of fractured emotions, mostly. It is not that the singer is sad all the time, but she is able to—because she is only part human and part music sprite that she seems not only to wrap her emotions around the music, but also to inhabit that spectral dimension; a place in the spirit world that only those with a transcendent singing ability are admitted. This is why when she asks: “If a heart breaks all alone/does it make a sound/and would anybody list-en/if it was booming all around…” it is possible to actually experience the proverbial explosion of the organ of emotion in the spirit realm, in an actual one. Emilia Mårtensson’s lines are that febrile; like elongated gossamer spread from nook to cranny in the topography of her music.
On Ana, a record so personal that it seems almost too difficult to have been shared, Ms. Mårtensson sustains herself by making sharp musical turns to bob and weave and duck the pain and personal imagery that seems to follow her as she slips out of the shadows and into the light, it would seem, to illuminate the bright spots in her living, breathing song. On “Harvest Moon” she sings in a heartbreaking tone all the time suggesting that she is harbouring a secret colouratura that seems to break out in the astounding parabolic leaps that form in her lines every once and awhile. Ms. Mårtensson has the remarkable ability to make any kind of lyric her own, making lines dramatically ascend an imaginary rock face, becoming physically and soulfully bruised along the way and then almost as dramatically free-fall in a kind of inverse harmonic direction, letting the lines float down under, only to come alive in what seems to be a mystical rebirthing of a new idea, which is then pursued as this new vocal and musical idea proceeds onto a brand new path. Thus there is a continuum of ideas that Ms. Mårtensson develops throughout her music. While this is remarkable for a contemporary such as Ms. Mårtensson, it is only just so and yet hardly surprising. Emilia Mårtensson magically seems to form a musical continuum with the folk musicians of her native Sweden, while inhabiting the jazz idiom of today. This in itself is unique. There are only a handful of vocalists who belong to this species: such as Abbey Lincoln of America, Lucia Pulido of Columbia.
Emilia Mårtensson has also seems to have forged, on this recording, a near-spiritual relationship with members of her ensemble. First there is Barry Green, who is so organically connected with Ms. Mårtensson that it is as if they are made of the same tree-sap. His playing on “Ana” and especially on “Black Narcissus Music” is so heady and edifying that it is the source of listeners’ inebriation. Mr. Green has large ears and the most beautiful hands. His contributions are inestimable. Moreover much of the music here is beguiling and intoxicating. Ms. Mårtensson, the musical sylph that she is, absolutely mesmerising on the two folk songs that adorn this album. There is also the presence of the ingenious, Adriano Adewale, the Brazilian, who like Nana Vasconcelos, absolutely redefines the term “percussion colourist.” Mr. Adewale also resides special place from where he brings to bear an absolutely awesome percussion palette, which is one of the prime reasons why this music is so memorable. And he is ably assisted with the wonderful melodic and harmonic work of bassist, Sam Lasserson especially on “När Som Jag Var På Mitt Adertonde År.” Remarkable touches are added by the string quartet that seems to be always at the right place at the right time. Consider how they weep and wail on “Black Narcissus Music.” Their own aesthetic is marvelous and they play throughout, with great sensitivity to the songs. But in the end it is Emilia Mårtensson who by her astounding lyricism and unbridled genius takes the music into a rarefied realm.
Track List: Harvest Moon; Ana; Learnt From Love; Tomorrow Can Wait; När Som Jag Var På Mitt Adertonde År; Black Narcissus Music; Everything Put Together Falls Apart; (Ana’s Reprise); Moffi’s Song; Vackra Människa.
Personnel: Emilia Mårtensson: voice; Barry Green: piano; Sam Lasserson: double bass; Adriano Adewale: percussion; The Fable String Quartet: Kit Massey: violin; Paloma Deike: violin; Becky Hopkin: viola; Natalie Rozario: cello.
Label: Babel Label | Release date: April 2014
About Emilia Mårtensson
Over the last decade, Emilia Mårtensson has built a well- deserved reputation as one of the most exciting young vocalists on the UK jazz scene. But you won’t find her simply churning out hackneyed jazz standards. Her gently expressive voice and highly personal compositions are firmly rooted in the folklore and the countryside of her native southern Sweden, adding to the mystique and allure of a distinctive and truly original artist.
As a youngster, Mårtensson immersed herself in the recordings of jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Anita O’Day. At the same time, she and a group of local boys were playing live jazz in her parents’ restaurant, which Emilia would later transform into one of the most successful jazz cubs in southern Sweden. But, for all her jazz background, Swedish folk song was always deep in Emilia’s heart.
You can hear it clearly, carved like an ancient rune, in the haunting and ethereal tones of her voice, in the dark melancholy of her storytelling and in the intimate, nocturnal hush of her timeless confessionals. Allied with the jazz musician’s effortless sense of timing and expression, it’s enough to make Mårtensson a very special voice indeed. Mårtensson’s second album, Ana – named after her Slovenian grandmother – is where she pulls together all the many different strings that have illuminated her art.
Emilia Mårtensson moved to London in 2000 to study at Trinity College of Music. In 2010 she joined Kairos 4tet as vocalist and lyricist and was a key factor in helping the group win Best Jazz Act at the 2011 MOBO Awards. In 2012 she released the duo album And So It Goes… with pianist Barry Green, and was described by The Observer as The New Face of British Jazz. “Mårtensson invests every sound with a skimming, rapturous lightness and clarity.” (Jon Fordham, The Guardian)
Pianist Barry Green has played with a wide-range of British jazz stars including Don Weller, Bobby Wellins, Christine Tobin, Ian Shaw, Dave Green and others, and is a regular member of groups led by Ingrid Laubrock and Larry Bartley. He leads a quartet featuring Mark Hanslip, Oli Hayhurst and Tim Giles, which plays his own compositions, and he co-leads the quartet Babelfish, with singer Brigitte Berha. “A cerebral swinger with a liking for unexpected harmonic turns.” (The Independent}
Sam Lasserson is a London-based bassist who is part of New York drummer Jeff Williams’ powerhouse UK quintet, and has played with Bobby Wellins, Anita Wardell, Martin Speake, Frode Kjekstadt and others, “Lasserson… exhibit[s] a hard-driving resourcefulness … to rival some of the world’s best-known post- bop practitioners.” (The Guardian Online)
Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale moved to London in 2000. He has performed with his own bands Sambura and the Adriano Adewale Group, which released an acclaimed debut album, Sementes in 2008, and has played with Latin jazz legends including Airto Moreira, Flora Purm and Seu Jorge.