Wednesday, February 13, 2019

2L Recordings' Ujamaa

There's a time of the year, this time I guess, when the 2L Recordings release schedule quiets down. Most of the year there's a fairly steady flow of music from this Norwegian label, but there's always a point, right around the holidays, where I stop and suddenly wonder if I'm missing anything. But I've grown to expect the gap, and now I'm wondering if it has anything to do with the Grammy Awards. You see, Morten Lindberg gets nominated for Grammy Awards pretty much every year, mostly in tech-slanted awards such as Best Surround Sound Album. See, it's not just me raving about some tiny record label. No, 2L Recordings is a big deal now, something that's slowly carving its way into the mainstream of the US music industry.

They're getting a ton of recognition for both content and the technological advances they employ in the recording studio, but this year's Grammy coverage included a couple of stories about Morten's his dubious new record--most nominations without a win. He's 0-26, and 2L in general is 0-34. Morten and 2L have become the Susan Lucci of Norwegian audiophile record labels, which is absurd. It's more than just sounding the best of course--this year, Ujamaa lost the Grammy to Alan Parson's 35th anniversary tribute to Eye in the Sky. (I'm just laying that out there, with no judgment whatsoever.) If you listened to just a handful of 2L Recordings, random picks out of the proverbial hat, you'd be very surprised to learn that they haven't locked up this category over the last seven or eight years.

It's no longer that time of year. I've received three new releases from 2L Recordings, and they are called Ujamaa, Ljos and Lux. Together, they form a trio of performances of original compositions with similar sizes and scopes as well as similar themes. Also, there's a strong vein of folk music running through these three impressive new releases. That's part of the point, and why I haven't started disassembling Ujamaa yet. These three recordings flow so evenly, even though we're dealing with different composers and arrangers and ensembles. Ujamaa, I suppose, blooms even further once you hear all three CDs in a row.

The title of this album is either Ujamaa & The Iceberg or just Ujamaa, depending where you look. This album, performed by the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and Choir, features two cantatas from Henning Sommerro, a Norwegian composer who was born in 1952. Ujamaa, by the way, is Swahili for "coming together in brotherhood," and this suggests a long distance bonding between two very different cultures. The thunderous rhythms in "Ujamaa" do sound less "Scandinavian" than usual until you realize that so much of Norwegian folk music, like Sami, has drumming that will remind you of Native American music. (That's just a loose interpretation, of course, since the links to Africa are clearly drawn here.) Sommerro has done something unusual, however, in placing that small folk ensemble in the middle of a big orchestra. This arrangement allows all the musicians more space to deliver all the history.

Because the approach is so expansive and varied over the course of these two cantatas, you'll hear an incredible amount of those 2L treasures--the ability to map out the walls and the ceilings of the old church where these recordings take place. For some reason this feels like one of the biggest ensembles Morten has put into a single room, except for maybe a couple of the choral recordings, and that flexibility gives this lush, tropical music from Norway a fascinating glow. As I mentioned, I listened to Ujamaa once before I also listened to Lux and Ljos, and then I went back to the start and felt like I was listening to some completely different.

I'll say one thing right now--the release of these three CDs in a row was an inspired decision.

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