Elda Trio: Elda
Two Rivers Records

Not to take anything away from Slovenian accordion player Janez Dovc and Sao Paulo-born percussionist Adriano Adewale, but the major drawing card for this new project is London-based Swedish vocalist Emilia Mårtensson, who possesses one of those one-in-a-million voices that makes everything around her sound better. Having had the immense pleasure of reviewing her solo album Ana in 2014, we were more than excited to hear her in the context of the recently formed Elda Trio. Still, as much one's attention understandably gravitates to her inimitable voice, the outfit is very much a group project shared equally by three individuals. It's not insignificant that all three receive composing or co-composing credits on the twelve-track release, even if the lion's share do go to Mårtensson.

Though markedly different folkloric cultures come together in the trio, Dovc, Adewale, and Mårtensson are clearly kindred spirits, and, in fact, the seeming differences between them turn out to be smaller than anticipated. To begin with, Mårtensson and Dovc worked together for about a year before the group's formation, and further to that the singer, half-Slovene by birth, grew up with a grandfather with a passionate love for Slovenian accordion music. An association between Mårtensson and the London-based Adewale also predated Elda, the percussionist having worked with her on Ana.

The warmth, clarity, and unerring pitch of her voice instantly declare themselves during the opening moments of “Stone Agaton,” but it doesn't take long for her partners' contributions to establish their equally strong presence. With a spring in its breezy step, Barnaby Keen's “The Air Holds a Memory” is rendered memorable by Mårtensson's handling of the song's challenging melodic lines as well as Adewale's rich accompaniment, whereas the sensitive reading of the Swedish folk song “Remembering/Vem Kan Segla” reveals the musicians' deep connection to the material.

Folk ballads and haunting, nocturnal chants (“Stone Agaton,” “To the Sun, To the Moon,” “The Tree”) rub shoulders with infectious, rhythm-driven, and at times playful pieces (“Hon och Han,” “Ellis Dreams,” “Tillsammans”) on this consistently excellent collection, its impact heightened by the beauty of Mårtensson's ever-expressive delivery. More than anything else, being able to bask in the magical glow of her jazz-inflected voice for fifty-five minutes is arguably the album's greatest reward.

Their pooled talents have produced an album abundant in flavour. While folk music and tales from their respective countries form the inspiration, there's a distinctively modern dimension to the music in its blend of traditional and electronic elements, and while much of the compositional approach is rooted in carefully delineated song form, moments of improvisation also emerge within the settings. Elda isn't an overtly political release, yet there's nevertheless a clear thematic undercurrent in play that celebrates the manifold benefits that accrue when different cultures come together.

October 2016