Album: SUSANNA – Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos (Rune Grammofon RCD2066 2007)

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Rune Kristoffersen is a bit of a star. There aren’t many labels out there with the kind of roster that Rune Grammofon has – Supersilent, Shining and Deathprod to name but three. Not only are the standards consistently high, there is a bewildering range to the kind of music released by the label – from gonzoid punk-jazz to quirky improv; dark ambient to gentle balladry. And all CDs come in smartly designed digipacks with artwork by Kim Hiorthøy – none of your tacky plastic cases here. Alongside Constellation, a label that holds many similar values in terms of quality of design, priority given to local acts, and the focussing on musical standards rather than on any specific musical form, Rune Grammofon has become a clear example of what a label should seek to be. One of the imprint’s most loved, and best-selling, artists is Susanna Wallumrød, and Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos has been eagerly anticipated for a while.

Wallumrød is without her regular partner Morten Qvenild (aka the Magical Orchestra) for this set of a dozen spare, hushed jazz-tinged songs, although he does make an appearance on a couple of tracks. Unlike previous Susanna releases, there isn’t a cover in sight. There is also a unity of mood, and arrangements largely rely on a sparse accompaniment of piano and gently plucked guitar. There are nine guest musicians listed, but their presence is only very lightly felt.

This is no insipid collection of late night jazz ballads, though. It’s a long way from Norah Jones territory. Nor is a collection of navel-gazing wrist-slashers, even if the mood is generally downbeat. The singer whose influence is most keenly felt is Joni Mitchell – in particular her Blue period. There is quite a striking similarity in Susanna’s phrasing, and the way that the melodies don’t usually follow the most obvious route. Indeed, “For You” sounded so familiar on the first listen that I had to check that it wasn’t a Mitchell cover. There are also echoes of Marissa Nadler, Linda Thompson and even the Blue Nile, particularly on “Stay”, one of the most beautiful tracks on the record.

“Home Recording” is so quiet, it sounds like it was taped whilst there was small child asleep in the same room. “We Offer” has drums (actually a solitary snare), but they are so understated as to be almost redundant. Only “Better Days” could be described as jaunty. There are times when Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos will simply go in one ear and out the other. But when it’s late, you’re tired and perhaps a bit emotionally drained, I really can’t think of a batch of songs that would suit the mood any better.

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