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Four star review of Sunniva Brynnel & Timo Alakotila Duo in Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter:
“Hon har en bakgrund som jazzpianist, men har sedermera tagit upp dragspel och fördjupat sig i gaelisk folksång. Han är pianist och ett viktigt namn inom finsk folkmusik, men med en repertoar som även innefattar pop, jazz och kammarmusik. Allt det där går igen på skivan, som stämningsfullt flyter fram genom i huvudsak Brynnels originalkompositioner. På några spår expanderar de med Risto Sakari Salmi på sopransax och Hannu Rantanen på kontrabas, men den röda tråden är duon och vad som tar form nästan som en förtrolig dialog om livet och erfarenheterna. En fin liten skiva, som med subtila medel berör de olika traditioner som Brynnel och Alakotila för med sig.”
– Johannes Cornell
Four star review of Sunniva Brynnel & Timo Alakotila Duo in Swedish newspaper Kristianstadsbladet:
Än folkligt, mest brittiskt men också svenskt, och än jazzigt. Ofta bägge, samtidigt. Brynnel dragspelar sig ur folkmusiken, tonerna är på väg någon annanstans. Då passar det bra att hon samspelar med Timo Alakotila, piano, vars fingrar redan finns både i folkton och jazz. Brynnel svarar för musiken (och även texter) och spelar stämningar lika mycket som toner. Duon blir en jazzkvartett när sax och bas tillkommer i ”Small”. Vackrast när Brynnel också sjunger, med en röst av solstrålar på daggdroppar. Och allra vackrast i inledande ”P”, där hon sjunger pastoralt och koralt inuti varandra till eget pianokomp.
– Bengt Eriksson
Review of Mareld – And So it Goes (2013), by Ulf Johanson, GöteborgsPosten:
Fin blandning av nordiskt – egna original och Evert Taube – och irländskt. Titelmelodin är Billy Joels. Mareld hanterar denna blandning av stil och uttryck med stor musikalitet.
Mattias Bäckmans fiol, Sunniva Brynnels dragspel och röst och Aubin Vanns gitarr är en fröjd att lyssna till, där de smidigt följer varandra, tvinnar melodifigurer runt varandra, skapar stämningar.
På And so it goes blir jag mest förtjust i titelspåret, en kolossalt fin duett med Sunniva Brynel och Aubin Vanns, och For Timo, en vacker och smågenial hyllning till finske pianisten Timo Alakotila, en av nordisk folkmusiks verkliga stormästare.
Reviews of Night Trees sophomore album, Dedications:
“Formed in 2016 by students of Boston’s New England Conservatory, Night Tree’s sophomore album makes an even bolder claim for attention that the sextet’s eponymous 2017 debut. Referencing their mixed American-Swedish backgrounds, Dedications blends shared heritage with Irish, Afro-Cuban, klezmer, jazz and classical elements to produce an appealing unique hybrid. An unusual instrumental array adds a distinctive gloss to a dozen original pieces in search of new forms and sounds.
The bedrock is provided by a bank of strings – Lily Honigberg’s violin and viola; the violin, viola and mandolin of Chris Overholser and Mckinley James’ cello – stamped with the disciplined intimacy of a chamber music ensemble lent tangy immediacy by Sunniva Brynnel’s accordion and piano, Zach Mayer’s bari and soprano saxophone, Julian Loida’s percussion and mixed voices. In the producer’s chair, Solas linchpin Séamus Egan dexterously accommodates the various influences and accents, bringing the whole to a satisfyingly boil with the animated lead single “Oyá”; exuberant, free jazz of “The Girl in a White Dress”; the West Coast dreaminess of “Baby Blue” and lyrical Nordic rusticism of “Gentle Storm”. Brynnel’s cut-crystal vocals on “North Carolina Cottage” are backed by rough-hewn accompaniment, a moment of repose provided by the playful “The Last Day of Summer”. Night Tree are definitely a band to watch.”
– Michael Quinn, Songlines (4-star review)
“While sounding like they come from everywhere, drawing in Irish, traditional, classical, bluegrass and European jazz, this American Swedish band came together as members of Boston’s New England Conservatory. Dedications is the band’s second album and it is a stunner. The first track, the curiously titled Elvish Welfare Suite no 1 is a collision between expansive instrumental folk and ECM jazz, the fiddle and the saxophone soar together. Moments of joyous celebration that slam and swirl, dance with moments of reflection. The paired back solo violin, as evocative as Vaughan Williams Lark Ascending, twines with a Jan Garbarek pure Saxophone and a growling accordion.
The Last Day Of Summer is another earworm tune, this time carried on the Cello and Fiddle. Strangely reminisant of Toto’s Africa, it has the bounce, lightness and indefinability of the best of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Percussionist Julian Loida’s instrument list reads like a poem and he uses his array of drums to great effect on Oya, building up a very African groove. After swirling, stomping instrumental music, North Carolina Cottage starts as delicate earthy Bluegrass with Sunniva Brynnel’s beautiful voice well to the fore. Typically for Night Tree the song doesn’t musically stand still for long and soon bowed Cello bass line is soon joined by a snorting bellowing free jazz forest animal saxophone. The end, like the Brass folk dance Year With The Yeti /Wings From The North that follows is uplifting and vital leaving you with that woodland walk flow. Baby Blue is a stunning lullaby written by Julian Loida , rich doo wop vocals blend seamlessly with plucked fiddle strings, the effect is atmospheric and uplifting. The Girl In The White Dress, written for Lily, one of the band’s violin players manages to be both a delicate accordion mist and a huge stomping furious dance as only Night Tree can. Like North Carolina Cottage, Blue-Eyed Sailor is a ballad iinterlude to the frenetic instrumentals, a piano led Celtic influenced song, with Sunniva’s beautiful voice center stage. Final track Gentle Storm marries one of those circular Soprano saxophone parts that always makes me think of Jan Garbarek’s Nordic Folk Jazz, to a rustic fiddle dance . Here, as on the rest of the album, saxophonist Zach Mayer’s playing is just sublime.
The band profess to sometimes playing in the dark, to force them to really listen to each others playing. If you like music firmly contained within one genre, without deviation or progression then you’ll hate this. If you like music that goes where it pleases or where it needs, following the sounds and spirit rather than watching for boundaries, signs and maps, then you will love Night Tree and Dedications.”
– Marc Higgins, Northern Sky (Four-star review)
“A Stateside six-piece playing contemporary folk with influences from oldtime, Swedish, Irish, so-called world music, and of course jazz and classical. I say “of course”, because these youngsters met at the New England Conservatory, but like many students they have been brought up in or captivated by Old World musical traditions. Accordion, fiddles, cello, sax and percussion combine to deliver instrumentals sad and saucy, with two vocalists vying for attention. All the music here is original – all six Night Tree members contribute – and that range of composing talent delivers an album which is surprisingly consistent but also unpredictable. Cellist McKinley James wrote the medley of pieces Year with the Yeti and Wings from the North for her scary-sounding mother, the first tune oddly English in melody and arrangement, the second more Scandinavian folk rock. Fiddler Chris Overholser’s Point Joe is modern Americana, think Hawktail or The Fretless, while Baby Blue by percussionist Julian Loida sits somewhere between The Beachboys and Bix Beiderbecke. Julian shares singing duty with Sunniva Brynnel, whose North Carolina Cottage has the macabre edge of I’m Stretched on Your Grave or Darling Corey, although this story seems to end better! Zach Mayer wraps up the album – Night Tree’s second, a scant year after their debut – with a delicate little bluesy number dedicated to Swedish weather. The other Swedish influence, fiddler Lily Honigberg, opens Dedications with her Elvish Welfare, Suite 1: a ten-minute seven-movement piece which juxtaposes Martin Hayes and Tolkein’s Frodo amongst others, and out-Cages Cage with a first movement apparently lasting precisely zero seconds. Give these guys a listen – you won’t regret it – and watch out for a European tour!”
– Alex Monaghan, folkworld.de
Reviews of Night Tree’s self-titled debut album:
“I want to appreciate world music, (whatever that is I didn’t coin the phrase) but sometimes it’s hard for me being a white guy from a small Wisconsin town. But then when I use half my brain I can understand that world music is really just a way of focusing in on a style of music that at its heart is dripping with nostalgia for the old days.
But these days there are bands such as the Boston based sextet Night Tree that take this longing for sound of the old traditional ways of Irish folk and suffuse it with a bit of lively jazz at times and even a little klezmer. Oh and a whole lot of heart. And it’s nice to hear this style of music not surrounded by a bunch of loutish drunks, which for better or worse is normally how I have heard it or rather recollected I’ve heard it.
But enough introductions let’s get down to the business portion. Night Tree opens Night Tree with the slow boiling roll of the Irish balladry on “Night Trees/Viva Galicia” which envelopes with the slowness of the pouring over the moors in the early morning but then quickly turns into a fully formed fugue of fiddle and fife, accordions and gut busting percussion that later brings in a wicked soprano saxophone to throw the whole thing off wild kilter. Next we are treated to a more instrumental and traditional Irish folk song on “A Wish on the Wind.”
Later on the mellow “Wheel in the Forest” gave me a Rachel’s vibe which I really liked as it slightly diverged from the traditional Irish folk into a more instrumental and experimental guild of melody and all out togetherness with a jam band feel that wasn’t going off the rails, but rather staying within the lines. Next up “FoWrist” shows the band’s willingness to expand beyond the genre of Riverdance with a bit of well-placed percussion and keeping a happy style with the upbeat accordion. The closing piece “Survivor’s Nign” opens slow and quiet but then builds into a Celtic cry.
Night Tree is very much a record of time and place. But it is also a record of super talented musicians who have formed up to elaborate this time and place. As St. Patrick’s Day fodder as it may sound to the average schmo, Night Tree is a record for music lovers year round, not just those who are Irish once a year.”
– DIVIDE and CONQUER (Indie Music Blog) by Jamie Robash
4.0 out of 5
“There have grown to be two schools of Celtic music. There are the strict traditionalists who go exclusively for the authentic sound, and an increasing number of those for whom Celtic music is the starting point for a musically eclectic journey. Eileen Ivers has incorporated blues, Latin American and some South African influence. Shooglenifty mixed Celtic with some hip-hop rhythms and electronics, Maura O’Connell and Tim O’Brien have melded Celtic with bluegrass, the band Notify have brought together jazz-rock fusion electronic and Celtic. Even those champions of traditional Celtic music, the Chieftains, have collaborated with performers well outside the traditional Celtic realm for some interesting blends.
This week, we have a distinctive acoustic group who have one foot in Celtic music, but incorporate a wide variety of influences using an unconventional combination of instrumentation. The band is called Night Tree, and their debut recording is also called Night Tree.
Night Tree formed only last year, and came together at the New England Conservatory of Music where they were students, presumably studying different genres. They brought together the odd combination of instruments they were studying, so the band features, two violins, cello, accordion, a saxophone — usually a baritone sax – and a variety of percussion, running from Celtic to Latin American with the cajon. They say they draw upon Irish, classical, jazz, Swedish folk, klezmer, and Afro-Cuban. They are mainly an instrumental group, and they have already developed a great musical rapport. From the band photos on their website, they look to be barely out of their teens, and include Lily Honigberg on violin, Chris Overholser on violin and viola, Sunniva Brynnel on accordion and lead vocals on the infrequent vocal tracks, Zach Mayer on sax, usually baritone sax, not often heard outside of jazz, McKinley James on cello, and Julian Loida on percussion. Their album was produced by Seamus Eagen, of the popular and also eclectic Celtic band Solas.
On their fan-funded, self-released debut album, they perform mainly original material often in the style of traditional, though they do serve up some interesting treatments of traditional music. A fair portion of the music has a kind of ethereal quality, but they can also turn up the energy level. Their arrangements also have some rhythmic twists while keeping it understated and often contemplative in texture.
Opening the generous 53 minute album is their title piece, Night Trees in a medley with a Solas tune Viva Galicia. The short introductory verse is one of the few instances of vocals on the album. It’s sung by Sunniva Brynnel, whose singing ought to be heard more. <<>> The band breaks into one of their eclectic cross-cultural amalgams on the second section, Viva Galicia, including the unlikely combination with the saxophones played by Zach Mayer.
The original way that Night Tree incorporates the baritone sax into their music is highlighted on the following piece A Wish on the Wind, written by saxophonist Mayer. It’s the band in their contemplative mode with an arrangement that has a lot of subtle layers.
Ships is a piece of, what in the classical world is called “program music” with a the music providing an impression of a sequence of events. In this case, a voyage about which the band writes in their description of the piece, “The ship forges onward with hubris and cheer only to meet is final end as the sea consumes without mercy.”
Another of the three vocals is Thanksgiving, also by Ms. Brynnel. The piece has a plaintive sound with the band’s typically eclectic instrumentation with the baritone sax and the Latin American percussion instrument providing a twist while the three string players are featured.
One particularly eclectic blend is the track FoWrist, which incorporates what sounds like Swedish hardanger fiddle influence with some Latin percussion touches, while getting into an increasingly energetic jig.
Wheel in the Forest incorporates some piano in a flowing piece that has a bittersweet quality, with the string players featured.
On the other hand one of the more upbeat and driving tracks is a medley of Saraswati, named for the Indian goddess of love, and Catharsis, which has the rare instance of a baritone sax taking the lead of an Irish-style reel.
The album ends with an unexpected track, a largely a cappella piece called Survivor’s Nign, an original Yiddish lament for the survivors of 9/11. Zach Mayer was, to quote the band’s description of the piece, “A little Jewish boy from Queens who watched his city burn,” and recalled it in this song fifteen years later.
Night Tree, the eponymous debut album by the acoustic sextet of current and former students of the New England Conservatory of Music, is an often fascinating and imaginative recording that mixes influences with abandon, with a kind of Celtic center. Their unconventional instrumentation with three string player, accordion, percussion and baritone sax would seem like the result of an attempt to throw a band together when not enough people showed up for a call for players for an orchestra. But instead they are full of interesting ideas and are great at creating distinctive sonic textures that effectively use what they play. The composing is first-rate, the playing is subtle and the production, by Seamus Egan, is outstanding.
Our grade for sound quality is an “A.” The everything is well captured, the clarity is commendable, and the use of sonic ambiance is effective.
Night Tree’s bio says that the group likes to get together and play in the dark to “allow themselves the opportunity to focus and listen closely to one another.” Whether you listen in the light or dark, Night Tree’s new album is thoroughly enchanting.”
– George D. Graham, Public Radio Host, producer, music journalist