If Grief Could Wait

It’s a day well begun when I go to my mailbox to find a review copy from ECM Records, because I know I’m going to hear something novel, something interesting and, more often than not, something I’m going to like. ECM is more adventuresome than most record labels. Their albums are always beautifully produced and handsomely packaged, an observation that surely applies to this release by vocalist Susanna Wallumrød in collaboration with Giovanna Pessi on baroque harp, Jane Achtman on viola da gamba, and Marco Ambrosini on nyckelharpa (a traditional Swedish instrument, dating back some 600 years, also known as a “keyed fiddle”). What the musicians are playing here is a cycle of songs featuring 11 17th century pieces by Henry Purcell, interwoven with more contemporary songs by Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake and Wallumrød herself, who sings them all with crystalline clarity. Seldom has the phrase “bell-like tone” rung more true. This is chamber music enriched and reinvented, and fans of Cohen are going to hear his lyrics in a context that gives them new and expanded life. Music of this kind is sometimes destined to become ambient noise in places that sell scented candles, but Wallumrød and her talented collaborators deserve better than that. This album rewards careful and attentive listening.