Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"The ability of musicians on the Norwegian scene to live in a multitude of musical spaces was made clear at Molde Jazz 2009, where trumpeterArve Henriksen performed in a variety of settings, ranging from the sublime beauty of his Cartography group to more aggressive noise improv with Supersilent. The two members of Susanna and the Magical Orchestra are equally spread out, in particular keyboardist Morten Qvenild, who has worked with groups ranging from indie instrumentalists Jaga Jazzist to more aggro progsters Shining, and whose In the Country trio has released its most ambitious album to date, Whiteout (Rune Grammofon, 2009). Vocalist Susanna Wallumrød has released two intimate singer/songwriter albums on Rune Grammofon - 2007's Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos and 2009's Flowers of Evil.
3 represents a logical evolution for this retro-centric but still modernist-edged duo, with a shift from the brighter, covers-only Melody Mountain(Rune Grammofon, 2006) to emphasis on original writing that covers plenty of subject matter, all couched in a darker, more electronic ambience. There's a pulse on tunes like Wallumrød's opening "Recall," a poignant song of lost love; but it's soft, almost subliminal. The thundering drums samples of the more spiritual "Guiding Star" are more visceral, but they're still synched with synth washes and are more programmatic in nature.
Wallumrød and Qvenild split the writing duties, with the keyboardist's music largely more sophisticated harmonically and more direct lyrically. The synth-driven "Game" examines loss from a different perspective, while the more defined electronic groove of "Palpatine's Dream," with Wallumrød's layered voices, is one of 3's brightest, poppiest tracks despite its bleaker subject matter. Like Wallumrød, Qvenild creates miniature orchestral arrangements with layers of keyboards and quirky, orbiting synth lines.
With occasional assistance from friends including Supersilent's Helge Sten and Jaga Jazzist's Andreas Mjås, the duo also covers two diametrically distanced covers, both bearing little resemblance to the originals, yet still curiously recognizable. With Neil Peart's metronomic drumming and Geddy Lee's nails-on-a-chalkboard voice removed - replaced by gentler sonics and Wallumrød's warmer, more inviting voice - Rush's "Subdivisions" may not possess the prog-power of the original, but Susanna and the Magical Orchestra turn it into something far more inherently appealing. It's harder to criticize the source for Roy Harper's melancholy "Another Day," but with treated piano and Wallumrød's clear, unaffected voice, Wallumrød and Qvenild claim it as their own.
It's a testament to their own writing that the covers are barely discernable as coming from other sources. Relying on Wallumrød's pure, direct approach to singing and Qvenild's glorious attention to texture, 3 is another highlight in the careers of both Susanna and the Magical Orchestra the collective, and its two members individually. Stark, beautiful, tender and heartfelt, it's a singer/songwriter's album for the 21st century." -AllAboutJazz
Q (Magazine) (p.117) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "['Subdivisions'] evokes suburbia's stifling conformity, a nuance previously submerged beneath the original's synths."
Record Collector (magazine) (p.96) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "Easy and low-key....This is an absorbing album to explore and savour."
Lyricists: Neil Peart; Roy Harper; Morten Qvenild.
Personnel: Susanna Wallumrod, Mariam Wallentin, Fredrik Wallumrod (vocals); Helge Sten (guitar, keyboards); Morten Qvenild (keyboards); Andreas Mjos (vibraphone); Erland Dahlen (drums, percussion); Susanna and the Magical Orchestra (programming).
Audio Mixer: Helge Sten.
Recording information: Audio Virus Lab; Fredros; Grandsport Studios; Oestre Nes; Oeysang; Sofienberg kirke; Teglverksgt 2.
Arranger: Susanna and the Magical Orchestra.
Susanna Wallumrod's albums with and without the Magical Orchestra (aka Jaga Jazzist's Morten Qvenild) have all taken a similar approach, whether she focuses on her own songs (List of Lights and Buoys, Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos) or the songs of others (Melody Mountain, Flower of Evil): her subtly remarkable voice -- which carries within it echoes of singers from Nina Simone to Karen Carpenter -- came first and foremost, surrounded by abstract arrangements soft enough not to detract from her vocals, but interesting enough to enhance them. Often, she sounded like she was singing with the weight of the world on her shoulders, but on the simply named 3, she and Qvenild sound like they're bound for the stars. Lighter and more overtly electronic than Susanna & the Magical Orchestra's previous work, these songs have a sci-fi glamour and wistfulness to them, as well as a grandeur that suggests vast dark skies filled with twinkling lights. 3 begins with one of its boldest departures, "Recall," which sets Wallumrod's voice adrift on bubbling analog synths, weaving a hypnotic spell broken by huge drums that sound all the more massive compared to the polite percussion on her previous work. "Palpatine's Dream" is even more striking, a song about Star Wars' Sith lord made sleek and strangely sexy with electronics that stream by like meteorites and backing vocals by Wildbirds & Peacedrums' Mariam Wallentin and Susanna's brother Fredrik Wallumrod. Not all of 3 is this drastically different than what came before it. Gently insightful songs like "The Game" and "Come On" could have appeared on Wallumrod's earlier albums, and she includes a couple of covers that reinforce what a gifted interpreter she is: Roy Harper's "Another Day" becomes a dead-of-night piano meditation, and Rush's "Subdivisions" is turned into a sparkling, ironically detached manifesto against conformity. Throughout, Wallumrod, Qvenild, and company never lose the purity of their vision, particularly on "Lost," an aching ballad so simple and vulnerable it feels like a cover when it actually isn't, and "Someday," which blends the album's alien frostiness with all-too-human intimacy, hope, and despair. Ambitious and diverse, 3 opens new possibilities for Susanna & the Magical Orchestra, but it shares the sense of wonder and beauty in all of their music. ~ Heather Phares
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