Torun Eriksen returns to Jazzland with her most ambitious album to date. "Grand White Silk" marks an expansion of her soundworld, not by becoming more lavish, but by allowing the songs to lead where they will, organically growing to produce sparse beauty here, luscious blossom there, and sumptuous vitality throughout. This also marks Eriksen's first self-produced album, and the result is something more personal, something that captures her artistic vision more clearly and honestly than ever before. She is assisted by long-time collaborator, Kjetil Dalland, whose contributions to her work have been a key part of her sound from the beginning. Their efforts here are further evidence of their exceptional synergy.
Those familiar with Torun's previous work will recognise much on offer, but will equally be taken by surprise by the rest: the simple and the complex meld to produce inch-perfect creations. Whether pushing a powerful groove, or weaving atmospheric piano balladry, or beating out near-demonic rubato stomps, or gospel-infused sing-alongs, the album's textures are irrefutably coherent, all instilled with Eriksen's compositional trademarks – the mellow grooves, the unexpected chordal shifts, the keen understanding of the dramaturgy of song - and all further elevated by her extraordinary vocal talents. And vocals take on whole new dimensions here, with larger-scale arrangements of backing vocals appearing on tracks such as "Compromise" and "Downhill", while Kjetil Dalland's magical touch provides perfect accompaniment on "Darkness" and "Take My Time". The keyboards of David Wallumrød and the drums and percussion of Andreas Bye add to the textural melange, and offer an expanded sonic palette without self-indulgence: no sound or texture overstays its welcome, or simply appears unnecessarily - the songs seem to remain in charge of themselves, flowing, breathing. The poignancy of the lyrics is carried with deft awareness and subtle nuances that allow Torun to shine, while Dalland, Wallumrød and Bye give performances of light and shade that artfully entwine the melodies, climbing, sliding, meandering, driving forward.
Few songwriters can perform their material with such unobtrusive self-awareness as Torun Eriksen: she possesses many strengths, as a lyricist, as a composer, as a singer. On "Grand White Silk", she has pulled off the rare feat of playing to all of these enviable strengths with equal vitality and conviction. When you have set standards as high as Torun already has, all that remains to be done is aim higher: her aim has proven true, with a set of songs and performances that crown her work to date.
Lyrically, the album draws on the place of the everyday amid the universal – those "little things we begin not to notice, that are important to us, yet we are blind to them through familiarity." Love; shame; self-acceptance; connections physical, emotional and electronic; contradictory feelings common to the modern world; the ability to simply breathe and accept a passing moment for what it is without question; the brief and frail existence of any individual within a universe without a visible, tangible beginning or end; all of this informs "Grand White Silk", and it is delivered with images rich, poignant, sometimes seeming quotidian, at others fragile and ethereal. Whether amid a lush arrangement with vast dynamic sweep, or against a sparse solo piano accompaniment, or against a juggernaut beat that seems close to unstoppable, Torun's sensitivity to her lyrical content is revealed time and time again by measured performances that are emotionally charged without melodrama, philosophical without cold intellectualism, meditative without haziness. Her distinctive tone, perfect phrasing, and sensual delivery has few peers. "Grand White Silk" sets a new highwater mark for an already impressive career.