Saturday, May 25, 2013
Jan Gunnar Hoff's Living on 2L Recordings Blu-Ray Audio and SACD
If you loved 2L Recordings' Quiet Winter Night as much as I did, then you probably already know Jan Gunnar Hoff. A well-known bandleader, composer and jazz artist in his native Norway, Hoff acted as the leader, arranger and pianist in that warm, romantic ensemble recording. The relative success of that album--it was nominated for a Grammy--prompted 2L to feature Hoff in his first solo recording, a series of piano pieces titled Living. Hoff's compositions, which are often called "meditative and expressive," are notably accessible when compared to other recent entries in the 2L catalog; along with QWN, this may be the lone recording by Morten Lindberg that will inspire you to listen at night, in front of a fireplace, preferrably with someone you love.
2L has already released a recording of piano improvisations within the last year or so from fellow Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo. During casual listening, the seriousness of the music in that recording can easily be lost--its somewhat cheery disposition might persuade you that you're hearing something that can be described as "easy listening." It's only when you sit down and take the time with Ojeilo's compositions that you notice the unsettling undercurrents that add a more somber and reflective layer. Living, on the other hand, grabs your attention almost immediately. While richly melodic and soothing, Hoff's compositions are more rooted in the classical piano repertoire and are more emotionally direct.
Then again, much of the music on Living seems more structured and purposeful because these aren't necessarily improvisations. "Brytning," for example, was originally written for a music festival back in 1992, and "A eg veit meg eit land" is a Norwegian anthem that was originally composed by Elias Blix back in 1896. Hoff does attribute "Karlygash" to 20th century Kazakh composer Akhmet Zhubanov, but is quick to say that his version is "freely interpreted." Listening to the lush, flowing, impassioned performances on Living, it's easy to imagine that they are emanating deep from within his soul, and it's equally easy to assume that another take on any of these tracks would yield tremendous differences in the outcome.
The most striking aspect of this recording is the incredible decay of the piano in the Sofienberg Church. There's a uniquely visceral impact to the space between the notes, almost as if you're embracing the lid of the piano as Hoff plays and you can feel the vibrations of wood and hammered strings. Morten achieved this by placing the microphones at some distance from the piano, allowing the interior of the church to enrich the presentation. A small but noticeable touch, visible in the photos in the enclosed booklet, is the placement of firewood under the piano itself. I wonder what this achieved, and how it contributed to the recording. Morten Lindberg is very much at the cutting edge of recording techniques these days, and it's astonishing to think he resorted to such an ancient solution to bring out the natural timbre of this piano.
Then again, the 2L recordings are so magnificent in their sonic consistency and ingenuity that I won't be surprised when random fireplace logs start appearing in audiophile's listening rooms throughout the world. Highly recommended--the recording, not the logs.