Album Remarks & Appraisals:
The untitled ECM 2-CD debut of this young Norwegian saxophonist, composer and improviser is an arrestingly original musical statement. Her music shapes its own world, outside genre definitions. Mette Henriette freshly interlaces form and freedom here, as her intense and focused tenor saxophone sound moves inside compositions of sometimes disarming fragility. In this expressive, emotional music, vulnerability can be as potent a force as full-tilt blowing, but there is a place for both.
Mette Henriette is a Norwegian composer, saxophonist, and bandleader. At 25, she is well established in Europe and the United States. She has collaborated with Tom Rainey, Tim Berne, Christian Wallumrod, and Sidsel Endresen, to name a few. Her debut album as a leader is double length; she leads a different band on each disc. The first features her trio with pianist Johan Lindvall and cellist Katrine Schiott. Henriette wrote 12 of its 15 pieces (the pianist wrote the remainder). These short compositionally economical works focus primarily on the sound of the group rather than Henriette as a soloist. The first three pieces are so skeletal that, taken together, they barely seem to create a whole. "All Ears" broods with tense cello and the piano's percussive statement in the lower middle register. Henriette's horn rumbles; she threatens to shout, but stays inside the lines. The ballad "Once" finds the saxophonist and pianist playing airy tones and mournful, repetitive lines. Schiott's entry adds weight to the bottom; Henriette uses it to express -- briefly -- immense emotion. She doesn't fully "speak" until Lindvall's "3-4-5," with longer lines in her tender solo. The second disc showcases a 13-piece ensemble that includes her trio, brass, drums, bandoneon, the Cikada String Quartet, and bass. She composed all 20 works. Though most here are also brief -- some are well under a minute -- there are middle-length and extended selections among them. Henriette claims more of the center stage as a soloist. Check the opening folk-inspired "Passé" or the droning, dissonant "Wildheart" for evidence of her muscular tone and physical attack. "Pearl Rafter" is a chamber piece without other accompaniment; the sprightly "Veils Ever After" follows and adds upright bass. The humorous "Late à la Carte" touches on vanguard big-band and marching music -- à la Carla Bley -- and contains an excellent tenor solo. "I," the set's longest track, commences as an abstract, tensely formulated study in strings and piano, but two minutes in it becomes a swirling free interaction between brass, saxophone, and rhythm section before it ratchets down. "Wind on Rocks," another longish work, is largely textural in the first half, but following Henriette's solo -- answered in the backdrop by taut brass -- shifts the foundation toward jazz. Disc two is especially focused. Henriette builds on fragmentary ideas and integrates them into strategic wholes. (The suite-like segment from "But We Did" through "Breathe" and the back-to-back chamber works "Bare Blacker Rum" and "& the Silver Fox" are examples.) As a whole, this is an auspicious, provocative debut. For all the restraint and space on disc one, the second is remarkably diverse, providing excellent contrast. ECM's considerable faith in this young musician is well founded. ~ Thom Jurek