Geir Sundstøl: Langen ro

To say that Geir Sundstøl brings experience to his sophomore solo release Langen ro is an understatement of huge proportions. Prior to issuing his solo debut Furulund in 2015 and with nearly three decades of professional experience under his belt, the guitarist's name could be found on more than 260 albums as a session player and sideman. That deep background is evident throughout the new album, not ostentatiously but subtly in the way Sundstøl and company breathe the songs into being.

Though Sundstøl himself declared that he wanted to craft an album of “underwater music,” the term doesn't accurately capture the nature of the material. A better description would reference its heartfelt folk quality, emphasize the predominantly acoustic presentation, and mention how central Sundstøl's pedal steel is to the album (one track, “Rok,” features the instrument only). Wistful, soothing, nostalgic, comforting, lyrical—all such words come to mind as this lovely thirty-six-minute set fills the air.

Recorded at St James's Church in the centre of Oslo, the album supplements the leader's pedal steel, banjo, and guitars (National Duolian, Shankar) with contributions from keyboardist David Wallumrød, violinist Erik Sollid, bassist Nikolai Eilertsen, and percussionists Martin Winstad, Erland Dahlen, and Martin Langlie. Yet while the range of sounds is plentiful and each arrangement rich in detail (as attested to be the instrument credits included in the album booklet), the primary selling-point for Langen ro is the songwriting. Just as it should be, the musicians collectively operate in service to the music, each one attuned to Sundstøl's vision and doing what they can to help realize it. There's a strongly evocative character to the songs as well, a cinematic dimension that's overtly signified by the cover of Giorgio Moroder's “Tony's Theme” (from the Scarface soundtrack) on the album. Much of the album is performed at a slow tempo that bolsters its entrancing effect.

Co-composed by Wallumrød and Sundstøl, the title selection introduces the album with seven minutes of swoon, the pedal steel carrying the melody as it does so often elsewhere. With harmonica, musical saw, blossombells, and other sounds adding to the overall shape, the track sets the bar high at the outset. Subsequent to that, the downtempo rendering the musicians give to the swaying melodies of the traditional folk tune “Gråtarslaget” lends the material a decidedly Eastern feel, while the feeling of heartbreak and longing is never more pronounced than during “Los.”

Sundstøl's playing on “Florianer” might understandably be described as Cooder-esque, though that's no bad thing when the result is so transfixing. On an album with many a track to recommend, the quietly blissful “Florianer” might be the most captivating, especially when the players give themselves over so completely to the folk ballad's stirring themes. Sundstøl's sensitive handling of the material is evident throughout this quietly triumphant album, and it therefore hardly surprises that he remains in demand as a musician, with an artist such as Nils Petter Molvær calling on him recently to join his touring outfit.

November 2016