Mette Henriette
Photo: Anton Corbijn via ECM

Mette Henriette’s Minimalist Chamber Jazz Was Destined for ECM

Like the snow-coated cover art of Drifting, the paradoxical sound of Mette Henriette’s trio presents a bit of serenity by way of extreme conditions.

Mette Henriette
3 February 2023

On the surface, it’s easy to lump Mette Henriette with that other Norwegian saxophone player signed to the ECM label, Jan Garbarek. Classified as “jazz” by virtue of the saxophone’s use, Garbarek and Henriette both track in the mellow side of the genre and with the overall approach to their instrument, but the superficial comparisons end there.

Drifting, Henriette’s second release for ECM is a diaphanous masterpiece of minimalist chamber jazz, free of new-age ornamentals supplied by electronic instruments. Accompanied by only Johan Lindvall on piano and Judith Hamann on violoncello, Henriette leads her quiet trio through 15 original pieces that hang together so delicately that they might blow away at any given moment. Straddling the line between composition and improvisation, Drifting forges its own path in its own time. It might not be a startlingly new path, but it’s carved exquisitely.

The tracks of Drifting behave more like movements of a suite than songs on an album. Opener “The 7th” lasts only 42 seconds, and the following song, “Across the Floor”, is wrapped up in under two minutes, giving the listener a distinct impression that the entire release could be masquerading as program music. Not all the tracks are brief vignettes, but there are enough recurring turns of melodic phrases to suggest that they are all just parts of a whole. Drifting also risks sedating the listener due to the calming performances. But stick around often enough and long enough, and you will notice little patterns and surprises along each way. Like the snow-coated cover art, the paradoxical sound of the trio presents a bit of serenity by way of extreme conditions.

Lindvall is a veteran from Henriette’s debut, but Hamann herself has an uncanny ability to match Henriette at times, both in terms of timbre and dynamic. When they’re not playing in unison, Hamann will supply the long tones for the trio’s bed where Lindvall’s soft chordal work can’t. This way, Henriette is free to trill, flutter, or gently skronk her way through the music as one opening presents itself after another.

Songs like “A Choo” are opportunities to turn a tantric exercise into a hypnotical piece of pastoral chamber music. On the other end of the spectrum, something like “0°” explores the trio’s possibilities with pure sound with hardly any “music” to speak of. When the two concluding tracks, “Crescent” and “Divining”, roll around, the level of quiet achieved by the ensemble could almost be considered unsettling. But true to ECM tradition, fidelity is handled with the utmost care, and a product like Drifting wouldn’t have it any other way.

Spend enough time with this music, and its many hooks, niches, and abstract sounds will bore their way into your brain. They won’t become lodged there upon first listen, but the naked nature of the sessions alone should prove to be striking enough. From there, Drifting will unfold as it was meant to, slowly but compellingly nonetheless.

RATING 7 / 10