It may be frustrating when an artist releases albums infrequently, but when quality trumps quantity all is forgiven. Swedish bassist Anders Jormin's discography as a leader remains small—just eleven records as a leader since his auspicious 1988 Dragon debut, Eight Pieces. Still, with a high profile résumé sporting fellow ECM label mates such as pianist Bobo Stenson, saxophonist Charles Lloyd, trumpeters Tomasz Stańko and Don Cherry, and violinist Mark Feldman, Jormin's recorded output may be relatively diminutive, but it's consistently superb, capitalizing on his distinctively lyrical approach and broader pan-musical concerns.
His previous ECM release, 2004's In Winds, In Light (forgetting that despite Xieyi being released Stateside in 2005, it was first released in Europe in 2001), was a compelling song cycle that, despite its inherent form, gave Jormin's group plenty of space both interpretively and in more decidedly free contexts. There's no shortage of form on Ad Lucem either, but this suite of compositions, originally commissioned for Swedish Jazz Celebration 2010, goes to even greater extremes, in no small part due to the participation of clarinetist and saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist (Atomic, Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio) and drummer Jon Fält (Lekverk, The Deciders).
In other groups, both Ljungkvist and Fält (who, with Jormin, is in Bobo Stenson's ongoing trio) explore the outer reaches of improvisation with an irrepressible sense of mischief and tongues often planted firmly in cheeks; the performances are no less exceptional and freewheeling here, but Ad Lucem is a more serious record mainly revolving around Jormin's music and predominantly Latin lyrics—also composed by the bassist, with the exception of the darkly quirky "Inter simper et numquam," setting Danish poet Pia Tafdrup's words to music.
Ad Lucem's two vocalists—Mariam Wallenti (Wildbirds & Peacedrums) and Erika Angeli—possess lovely, mellifluous and pliant voices, harmonizing beautifully, whether it's on the opening "Hic et nunc," where Fält's tribal toms create a softly rumbling underscore to Jormin's focused flights of fancy, or the more evolutionary "Quibus," where the bassist's opening solo slowly but inevitably leads to form and pulse. But on the album's only completely free piece, "Vigor," both singers demonstrate greater breadth still, recalling the more expansive textural, rhythmic and at times guttural experiments of Jeanne Lee and Sidsel Endresen.
Elsewhere, the music moves from hushed melancholy to extreme expressionism, with Wallenti and Angeli orbiting around each other to create a gentle sense of release when they finally conjoin on "Lux" and the instrumental "Cæruleus," which dissolves into one of the album's most expressionistic moments, as Ljungvkist's tenor scores a frenetic path through the equally unfettered Fält and Jormin.
Whether it's soaring extemporization or calming quietude and pensive sadness, Jormin's warm pizzicato and rich arco remain a focal point. Despite being as collaborative as In Winds, In Light, Ad Lucem remains defined by Jormin—one of but a very few players of this low register instrument who can truly make a bass sing. Separated by years they may be, but any new recording from Jormin proves well worth the wait and Ad Lucem is no exception. (by John Kelman)
Mariam Wallentin - voice
Erika Angeli - voice
Fredrik Ljungkvist - clarinets, tenor sax
Anders Jormin - double bass
Jon Fält - drums
Hic et nunc
Inter simper et numquam
Matutinum - Clausula