"For me the most distinctive moments of the album are in the combination of the satin, even creaminess, of voice and harp, two sound concepts perfectly matched."
“Everything is possible and anything can happen in the world,” writes French harpist Tristan le Govic, lending his optimistic-but-with-a-wink imprint to this wonderfully appealing new disc of the old and the new, Elva. It should not come as a surprise that this artist, who’s had a Celtic harp within fingers’ reach since he was six, breaks up the mostly folk songs and dances on the album with his own piece, a cross dressing cakewalk/rag that will surpass any expectations you might have of what this little instrument is capable of, or for that matter, what he can do. Yes, everything—and anything—is possible with this marvelous artist.
Elva means eleven in Swedish—11 tracks, the clock on its cover at 11—apparently a number with magical meaning for Tristan. Uneven, off-center, we are not listening to period-instrument practice, but a fusion of jazz and music that swings. Close and tight, we can feel the strings’ give under expert hands and the warmth of breath of the beguiling voice of Swedish singer Lise Enochsson.
Beginning the CD is a Scottish wedding song from Norway sung in Swedish. The young bride breaks into a Nordic scat when deciding how to answer if she’s had other lovers. Stuart Mapherson on bass and Roy Shearer on percussion give just the right backdrop to the answering harp. Tristan’s percussive stopped technique and impeccably articulated fingers keep skipping along.
The track I played over and over was number two, “Stev.” The words to this Nystev—a kind of Norwegian 12-bar blues—are beautiful in themselves: “I will sing so beautifully that you will forget yourself and I.” It’s a happy dance of colors, rhythmic complexity, and delicate pauses.
“Som Forr” is a polska, a kind of Nordic Polonaise that begins by looking back through the mists of time. Lise sings a characteristic string of nonsense-syllables, “diddly-doos.” We hear her as on a scratchy record until finally joined by the band, lilting and still true to its roots with a looser, zesty flavor.
Most poignant is a solo written in the here and now. Moved by the environmental and human loss after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, Tristan brings us a song of hope. A simple, melodic line inscribed with his blunt percussive punctuation, “Children of Hope” is a moment to contemplate, to rest. As you listen, your feet feel they are nearly ready to move again, to walk into the future and another day to dance.
Two tracks of music from Brittany give a nod to Tristan’s roots. The addition of bombarde and biniou—both Breton double reed instruments played by the very capable Pascal Lamour and Andre le Meu—is an interesting window into something timeless. The recording set-up focuses on the harp with the others off in the distance, as if engaging us in a mystery from times past.
For me the most distinctive moments of the album are in the combination of the satin, even creaminess, of voice and harp, two sound concepts perfectly matched. It is pure magic, and you will find yourself absolutely enraptured.