«Asura» is the debut album of Norwegian tenor sax player Marthe Lea as a bandleader and she says that it is a declaration of love for life. Lea, known from Bugge Wessltoft’s New Conception of Jazz, a trio with Ayumi Tanaka and Thomas Strønen (recently released on ECM) and collaborations with Axel Dörner and Alasdair Roberts, plays «Asura» also the flute, piano, guitar, the African string instrument udungu and percussion and did the cover art, leads her quintet since 2018 with a simple free-improvised philosophy: flow with whatever happens. But a day before the recording of «Asura» she presented to her musicians six completely new songs, all with rather whimsical twists, just like herself.
The music of «Asura» is clearly inspired by folk music from far and wide. Lea’s inclusive and rich musical universe incorporates echoes of Don Cherry’s pioneer world music excursions, through the music of Swedish Ale Möller, with detours to Gnawa and Ethiopian music, until the recent offerings of Swedish Goran Kajfeš Subtropic Arkestra. But Lea’s abstractions of timeless folk melodies are performed in the most liberated manners, crisscrossing cultures and borders within the same song, but keeping its innocent and sincere essence. Lea is assisted by experienced musicians, eager to embrace Lea’s worldly soulful vibrations – clarinetist Andreas Hoem Røysum (who hosts Lea in his Ensemble), violinist Hans P. Kjorstad, double bass player Egil Kalman and drummer Hans Hulbækmo, all sing and play percussion instruments and together they sound like a much larger outfit.
«Kedi», the opening piece, matches Norwegian traditional Hardanger fiddle dance music with sensual Balkan dance, in the most natural manner. The following «Jysla Jysla», with Lea on the piano, is a playful pop song that blossoms with an impressive solo of Røysum. The title piece transforms organically Japanese strict ritual music into an infectious humming melody, paying homage to Cherry’s influential Codona trio (with Collin Walcott, and Nana Vasconcelos). The call-and-response essence of «Sakina» alternates seamlessly between the devotional and hypnotic Gnawa music and the sensual Ethiopian music, referencing the iconic sax playing of the late, great Getatchew Mekurya. «Bølgebryter» (Wave Breaker) deepens the Ethio-jazz vein with a folk-jazz melody, now linked to the work of Mulatu Astatke. The gentle and innocent melody «Elgens hverdag» (The Weekday of the Moose), with Lea on guitar and vocals, approaches an ancient mix of British and Nordic lullaby. «Asura» ends with «Sneaky Sneaky» which has been a recurring theme for Lea Band for several years and captures the joyful and sensual, optimistic and life-affirming spirit of this band.
Marthe Lea (ts, fl, p, g, v, udungu, perc), Andreas Hoem Røysum (cl, bcl, v, perc), Hans P. Kjorstad (vio, fl, v, perc), Egil Kalman (b, modular synth, v), Hans Hulbækmo (dr, perc, v)