Textura, Canada "BLUE impresses as a joy from start to finish".
December 29, 2020
Having spent a half-century on stage, Danish classical guitarist Lars Hannibal has amassed a formidable list of credits. He expanded on the guitar technique he honed in ensembles during the ‘60s and ‘70s by studying lute with Toyohiko Satoh in the late ‘70s, playing jazz with trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, and forming Duo Concertante with violinist Kim Sjøgren in 1980. Not only did the latter outfit perform more than a thousand concerts, the musical partners recorded ten albums under the Duo Concertante name. Such a diverse background naturally lends itself to an equally broad approach to the music Hannibal performs, with the Danish artist drawn as much to classical and folk as popular song and modal jazz.
While his latest album does cast a wide stylistic net, it's an intimate recording that sees the guitarist joined on many of the eighteen tracks by his long-time musical companion and former wife, recorder virtuoso Michala Petri. Making BLUE even more of a family affair, three songs include their daughters, cellist Agnete and vocalist Amalie. The four's collective presence adds to the music's considerable charm, the result a recording to which one naturally warms. As appealing as the release is in total, the three songs on which all four appear (written by the guitarist in the late ‘80s) are especially endearing, in no small part due to Amalie's lovely vocal delivery.
BLUE is fundamentally a two-part presentation, with the first ten settings originals by Hannibal and the other eight from the Danish social song tradition. The title was chosen to accentuate the music's overall melancholy, its calm, free-floating quality, and introspective character. Hannibal strives for simplicity and clarity in his material, with the opening “Twilight on a Ground” serving as an excellent illustration. In using a modicum of elements—a small number of notes repeating throughout and unadorned recorder melodies—the piece distills his compositional approach into a single three-minute presentation. Even more affecting is “Evening in the Garden,” whose lilting, Spanish-tinged flow provides an elegant base for the guitarist's sensitive expressions and Michala's heartfelt voicings. In contrast to its Nordic folk tone, “BLUE on a Ground” exudes a pronounced twelve-bar blues feel, even if the recorder imbues the material with a medieval quality. In the other settings, Hannibal's uncluttered arrangements serve the material well, with the impact of a delicate piece such as “Dreams” all the stronger for the directness of its presentation.
In terms of the three quartet performances, “Autumn Rain” takes flight when Amalie's pretty, youthful voice gently glides over Hannibal's guitar arpeggios and Michala's recorder patterns. If there's a single on BLUE, it would have to be “Springtime Sun,” a samba-tinged reverie buoyed by radiant melodies and Amalie's lovely vocal. The prettiest of the three, however, is “The Magic of Thoughts,” whose lilting melodies are nothing less than swoon-inducing. The beauty of the quartet pieces suggests Hannibal might be wise to consider creating an entire album of such material.
As mentioned, the recording's second part features recorder-and-guitar arrangements of Danish songs written by famous poets and accompanied by music from leading composers of their time. Yet while Hannibal didn't write the material, the pieces complement his originals when the instrumentation is common to both. The predominating style in the second part is classical-folk balladry, with settings by Thorvald Aagaard, Thomas Laub, Carl Nielsen, Franz Gebauer, Oluf Ring, and C.E.F. Weyse featured. Like the songs in the opening section, the pieces are endearing, none more so than Nielsen's lullaby-like “Underlige Aftenlufte” (Wond'rous air of evening) and Thomas Laub's alluring “Stille, Hjerte, sol går ned” (Still, my heart, now sets the sun). Whether the pieces are vocal-enhanced or instrumental, the album's seventy-four minutes present a most flattering portrait of Hannibal as composer, arranger, and guitarist. However much its title emphasizes melancholy, BLUE impresses as a joy from start to finish. December 2020