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Mette Henriette: Mette Henriette

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Mette Henriette’s saxophone playing on her eponymous debut is the most gentle imaginable-elegant, classically inspired and usually whisper-soft. Her mini-compositions traverse the range of human emotions. There is a Lars von Trier movie waiting to be set to this music. The Norwegian saxophonist-

her full name is Mette Henriette Martedatter Rølvåg-wound up on ECM after a chance encounter; she found herself sitting next to label founder Manfred Eicher at a Dino Saluzzi concert in Oslo, and they got to chatting.

Discussing the individual tracks of this album is beside the point. There are 35 of them across these two discs, and half of them are shorter than two minutes; several of them run under one minute. With titles like “O,” “.oOo.,” “?” and “I,” it’s clear that Henriette doesn’t want them dealt with individually anyway. Instead, the project is best considered as two suites-the trio set on disc one and the large ensemble set on disc two.

Her trio includes pianist Johan Lindvall and cellist Katrine Schiøtt. Their music is patient and fluid, with flowing lines and lots of sustain. The “songs” are sketches rather than fully formed pieces, and that’s the idea: minimalist improvisation against minimalist frames. Henriette will blow one soft note per bar, Lindvall will repeat a few notes and Schiøtt will bow one note across several measures. The result is beyond beauty.

The 20 tracks featuring the ensemble-six stringed instruments, two brass, a piano, bass and drums-are more lush but only slightly so. Bass and drums are used not in the traditional sense, nor are trumpet and trombone; they’re barely there. The violins, violoncellos and viola are more prominent, but not by much. These pieces are as minimalist as 13 musicians can manage. Only in two long numbers, “wildheart” and “I,” does Henriette play with abandon. There, her forceful, almost harsh tone comes as a shock amid all the modesty. With this astonishing debut, Mette Henriette has made a bold statement in the most understated fashion.

Originally Published