Daniel Herskedal – The Roc (Edition Records)

Superlative new set from Norwegian jazz virtuoso drawing from an array of global influences

Released Feb 24th, 2017 via Edition / By Norman Miller
Daniel Herskedal – The Roc (Edition Records) Norwegian tuba player Daniel Herskedal continues his exploration of all kinds of cool ways to set an often-overlooked instrument at the heart of brilliant contemporary jazz composition.

This latest album, however, takes a very different route to its 2015 predecessor Slow Eastbound Train. That saw Herskedal combine a trio – with Eydolf Dale on piano and Helge Andreas Norbakken on percussion - with the big sound backing of a Trondheim chamber string orchestra. The Roc replaces massed Nordic strings with just two, in the shape of Bergmund Waal Skaslien on viola and Svante Henryson on cello.

This quintet still pours forth a marvellously full-throated sound. Rather than the cool north, however, the mood has shifted far south to the Middle East – though themes of place and travelling are as present here as on Slow Eastbound Train.

The strong Arabic influence that runs magnificently throughout this album has its roots in trips Herskedal made to Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, and the titles of several of the 10 tracks here originate from the names of Arabic scales (Bayat, Nahawand) and rhythms (Thuraaya) - sometimes mashed together as on the excellent Kurd, Bayat, Nahawand To Kurd with its gorgeous mix of Eastern sinuous strings and Western piano licks.

There's also a nod to a wise-if-quirky Arabic saying - There Are Three Things You Cannot Hide; Love, Smoke And A Man Riding On A Camel – in the title of one of the album's standout tracks, whose rough-edged glory offers the sense of a string-driven desert column around which the other instruments dart like would-be raiders.

Hijaz Train Station, meanwhile, highlights a place the musicians found particular inspiration on their travels – a string-based vision of spine-tingling eerie melancholia that is contrasted perfectly with the muscular rhythms and pizzicato effects that drive the following track, Thurayya Railways. The Afrit fashions beautiful melodies from singing piano and cello.

The album is bookended by tracks with more European style. The sweet opener Seeds Of Language mixes melodic tuba and piano with pastoral strings, while the title track moves effortlessly showy jazz complexity with a dash of simpler blues. Eternal Sunshine Creates A Desert oozes a sense of bluesy trumpet-led slow swing.

The album ends with a beautifully contrasting pair of tracks. The Kroderen Line is a silkily loose piano-led beauty that oozes sophistication, while the closing All That Has Happened, Happened As Fate Willed is an elegiac farewell ripe with Nordic ambience and shades of John Surman.

While the musicianship is fantastic throughout, special mention should go to Skaslien's lustrously sinuous viola playing that does most to burn memorable Arabic vibes through this fine album.