Picks and Pans Review: Rosenfole: Medieval Songs from Norway

updated 03/05/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/05/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Agnes Buen Garnås and Jan Garbarek

Here is a blast from the very distant past that sounds anything but antiquated. Buen Garnås, a farmer's wife who comes from a long line of Norwegian folklorists and balladeers, has teamed with her countryman Garbarek, a jazzman who claims John Coltrane as his musical forebear, to create a hauntingly beautiful album that should appeal to just about any listener with eclectic taste and a sense of musical adventure.

Opening the session with an a cappella rendition of a traditional ballad her mother taught her to call the cows home from grazing, Buen Garnås lets loose in a voice that rings with the eerie majesty of church bells resounding across an open plain. She sings in Norwegian, but the feelings of loneliness and yearning she touches are universal.

In subsequent songs about farm people beleaguered by the supernatural or caught in tragic webs of love and jealousy, Garbarek provides austere atmospherics with overdubbed saxophone and synthesizer musings that subtly highlight Buen Garnås's storytelling gift.

The floating, far-off feeling of Garbarek's arrangements and the use of ceremonial percussion instruments to maintain a sense of suspenseful drama is particularly effective on the title track, a ballad about a mythical horse of godlike strength and grace that leaps into the sea and swims an enormous distance before it dies of exhaustion.

This is music that's pleasing to the ear, without seeming insipid. As a listening experience, it's akin to drinking from a potion of forgetfulness and being transported to a world of gentle magic. (ECM)

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