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ORD

«Hemligheter på vägen»
HAVTORN, HR066

The poetry of Swedish writer, psychologist and translator Tomas Tranströmer (1931-2015), who played the piano all his life, inspired many musicians, as well as many other artists. Jan Garbarek called his compositions for the album «It’s OK To Listen To The Gray Voice» (ECM, 1985) after quotes from Tranströmer’s poems. Fellow-Norwegian Trumpeter Tore Johansen arranged four of his poems for the album «Open Minds» (Inner Ear, 2012) and two more poems for the album «Sang» (Inner Ear, 2020), and vocalist-kantele player Sinikka Langeland arranged three of his poems for her album «The Half-Finished Heaven» (ECM, 2015). Swedish Double bass player Andres Jormin arranged one of his poems in his album «Poems for Orchestra» (Losen, 2019), and this is only a partial list.

Swedish pianist Karin Johansson joins this elite list of musicians. She is known for her collaborations with Lisen Rylander Löve, Finn Loxbo, and the Quagmire trio Nina de Heney and Henrik Wartel. She composed music for six poems of Tranströmer for her quintet ORD’s debut album, «Hemligheter på vägen» (Secrets on the Way), titled after one of the most famous poems of Tranströmer. She was inspired by a short text from Tranströmer’s short memoir Memories Look at Me: «I carry inside myself my earlier faces, as a tree contains its rings. The sum of them is me. The mirror sees only my latest face, while I know all my previous ones». The cover art corresponds with that quote and features an image of Johansson when she was ten years old. The album is released on World Poetry Day on March 21st, 2022.

Johansson’s compositions and setting for introspective free improvisations adapt the insightful observations of Tranströmer. We carry all our different ages and memories with us, they walk next to us each day, but there are gaps between moments of recognition. She added two of her own texts as well as one text by vocalist-songwriter Jenny Willén. Tranströmer’s poems are sung in Swedish (but there are many excellent translations of the poems of Tranströmer), and Johansson’s songs «Blind fear» and «Just a second from now» are sung in English. The unique instrumentation of the quintet – Johansson at the center on the piano and prepared piano, vocalist Willén with her warm, crystal clear delivery, trombonist Niclas Rydh, reeds player Gunnel Samuelsson and double bass player Hasse Westling, as well as the sparse, hypnotic arrangements of Johansson, highlight the mesmerizing, poetic images and the evocative musical allusions of Tranströmer («…I am carried in my shadow / like a violin / in its black box…» from the opening piece «April och tystnad», (April and Silence).

Johansson’s poetic music and thoughtful arrangements invite the listeners to reflect on Tranströmer’s poetry; to immerse themselves into the fantastic images of sounds and silence or of language at all of this great poet, and remember when was the first time that Tranströmer’s poetry became an integral part of their life. «Vinterns formler» (Winter formulas) suggests the humble yet wise perspective of the poet («And which was «I» / is only a word / in December’s dark mouth».) «Trädet och skyn» (The Tree and the Sky) relates to the transient of all lives («There’s a tree walking around in the rain, / it rushes past us in the pouring grey. / It has an errand. It gathers life / out of the rain like a blackbird in an orchard…»). The emotional «Minnena ser mig» (Memories Look at Me) distills beautifully and even further this kind of synesthesia («…I must go out—the greenery is dense / with memories, they follow me with their gaze… They are so close that I can hear them breathe / though the birdsong is deafening».) «Från mars -79» (From Mars-79), read by Tranströmer’s wife Monica when he received the Nobel Prize in 2011, evokes the sober realization of the shortcomings of all languages with free improvisation («Tired of all who come with words, words but no language / l went to the snow-covered island. / The wild does not have words. / The unwritten pages spread out on all sides! / I come upon the tracks of roe deer in the snow. / Language but no words».) Johansson and Willén’s contemplative songs and their poetic playing and singing correspond with the images of Tranströmer and ask us, the listeners, the same thing, to stop, reflect, see, and simply listen.

A most beautiful and inspiring album.

Eyal Hareuveni

Karin Johansson (p, prep p), Jenny Willén (v, voice), Niclas Rydh (tb), Gunnel Samuelsson (bcl, ts), Hasse Westling (b) 

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