Songbook is a unique project from Danish, free jazz alto sax player-experimental composer-educator Laura Toxværd, featuring a real art book with short texts, her own lyrics, and graphic notations plus two albums with different ensembles, chosen specially for the distinct sets of compositions. Toxværd wanted to create a unified and accessible body of work where music, texts, lyrics and images of the graphic scores would be mutually embedded in each other, enhancing the realization that her notations can be seen as visual expressions of the sonic ideas and vice versa.
Laura Toxværd - Tidens strøm (Ilk Music, 2019) ****
Tidens strøm (the flow of time in Danish) features six songs, written by Toxværd. Her lyrics reference elements from the poem “Nyaarsmorgen” by Danish poet and pastor Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783-1872), founder of Grundtvigianism, a theological movement that revitalized the Danish Lutheran church. Toxværd mentions that she was also inspired by the folk songs of Swedish songwriter-poet Carl Michael Bellman (1740-1795) and free jazz pioneer and sax player Albert Ayler. These songs were recorded at a studio in December 2018 by an ensemble that its instrumentation brings to mind the ensembles of sax player Henry Threadgill - vocalist Maria Laurette Friis, Toxværd on alto sax, tuba player Kristian Tangvik, accordionist Kalle Moberg and drummer Kresten Osgood.
The songs are sung in Danish (but the Songbook offers translations in English) and suggest the imaginative arrangements of Toxværd. She weaves cleverly the elements from Nordic folk, hymn-like songs, lyrics that often referring to dream-state visions (“What next I remember was none of a dream / is present full sweet like this stream of love proper. / with snowy white wings / doves from sea of the light / painted an epic with chalk and lime and glue”, from “Snehvide Vinger”, Snowy White Wings) with concise and vivid descriptions of natural sceneries and the gospel-ish, free jazz singing of Ayler. Laurette Friis charges these songs with a refined, vulnerable delivery, Tangvik and Moberg intensify the chamber, folky envelope and only Osgood adds subversive, free and minimalist comments while Toxværd balances all with her passionate love cries.
Only 27 minutes long but a rare, beautiful gem.
Laura Toxværd - Drapery (Ilk Music, 2019) ***½
Drapery is a collection of nine of graphically notated compositions of Toxværd, penned in 2019 and delivered by her on alto sax, Gustaf Ljunggren on “various strings” and guitars, Peter Friis Nielsen on electric bass and Marilyn Mazur on percussion and drums. Drapery was recorded in May 2019.
These compositions involve abstract paintings, broken lines of notes and combinations of both, each with its own spirit and focus. Toxværd explains her approach: “Sometimes I need something abstract and improvisational, and then I like to design a graphic score where I note this to the musicians. Other times, I see the need for something that has more to do with tones, harmonies, and rhythms, and then I note it on music paper”.
The quartet alternates between the contemplative, yet open and often fully emotional reading of the scores, as on the opening, title-piece or “Fields”, “Countrysides” or “Lament” to the nervous, aggressive attacks as on “Current”, based on a totally, chaotic, abstract score, or the fiery free jazz piece “Elsewhere”. Toxværd opts for a clear, thoughtful tone and collective, democratic improvisations but there are times where she explodes and reaches brutal, Brötzmann-like onslaughts. Both kinds of compositions stress the highly versatile, totally free coloring of Friis Nielsen and Mazur, always eager to push Toxværd and enriching the sonic envelope further and deeper.