Stunning New ECM Album from Giovanna Pessi and Susanna Wallumrød

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In January I received a new cd from ECM, a label I’ve always esteemed.  It appeared to be a classical album, however, so I put it in the little box for music I need to get to when there’s time.  Classical music takes much longer to audition than other music…..the compositions are longer. I was stunned when I heard the music months later.  It is the type of eclectic repertoire and artistic collaboration ECM is famous for;  here we get Pessi, a baroque harp player from Switzerland, with Wallumrød, a pop singer from Norway.  They perform the dolorous, languid 17th century Elizabethan music of Henry Purcell with a twist;  Susanna is not a classically trained soprano, but has a natural voice, an real asset here, and Pessi’s baroque harp has a richer, more viscous sound than other harps.  Add to this already rich sonic mixture Marco Ambrosini on the nyckelharp and Jane Achtman on viola da gamba (the 6-string fretted precursor to the cello) and it gets even better. Throw in a great version of Leonard Cohen’s dark song “Who by Fire”–which adapts lyrics from a Jewish Day of Atonement prayer— as well as Nick Drake’s “Which Will” from his great album Pink Moon and you have music that works a new and special magic.  As usual, the recorded sound and production values are superlative.  Even the plastic of the jewel cases ECM produces are superior to what other labels do.  The jewel case is even encased in a nice cardboard cover to protect it.  There are few record labels these days that lavish such attention on quality and details like this.

Here’s the Leonard Cohen song like you’ve never heard it before:  Cohen adapts a Rosh Hashanah Day of Atonement Prayer.   This is the original Yom Kippur liturgy:

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed
How many shall die and how many shall be born
Who shall live and who shall die
Who at the measure of days and who before
Who by fire and who by water
Who by the sword and who by wild beasts
Who by hunger and who by thirst
Who by earthquake and who by plague
Who by strangling and who by stoning
Who shall have rest and who shall go wandering
Who will be tranquil and who shall be harassed
Who shall be at ease and who shall be afflicted
Who shall become poor and who shall become rich
Who shall be brought low and who shall be raised high.

….and this is the Leonard Cohen version: