Jazzland Recordings presents Yūgen, an astonishing debut from Marthe Lea (sax, vocals, guitar) and Håkon Aase (violin, harmonium, percussion), and featuring special guest, Mats Eilertsen (bass).
The album traverses the boundaries of traditional folk, classical, and jazz, and is by turns deeply textural and highly melodic, creating an oxymoron for itself: rich minimalism. Drone, harmony, unison, counterpoint, microtonal variation: countless terms from the musical lexicon can be applied, yet not even in combination, never mind each alone, can begin to capture the music the duo (and sometimes trio) produces. The music is spacious and exploratory, but is firmly grounded in a certainty of itself, conceptually rooted so that its peregrinations do not exceed its aesthetic unification. Some influences enter from elsewhere, adding hints of Romany, Sami, broadly African and Carnatic traditions to individual pieces, yet the overall feeling is something not only distinctly Scandinavian, but peculiarly Norwegian. No single piece is excessive in any way, whether in orchestration and arrangement, or in length: each is a perfect miniature, experimental without being inaccessible, challenging without being combative. Moments of whimsical charm rub shoulders with moments of meditation, the reflective guides the instinctive. Yūgen's clarity of intent and highly thoughtful and measured execution of its compositions affords this album the rare luxury of deserving an epithet that is usually indicative of hyperbole, but certainly not in this case: "unique".