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Review: Mursejler by Jacob David

1 March 2021

Danish composer Jacob David has recently returned with a highly anticipated sophomore release on Moderna Records, once again using his trademark melodic felted piano as the basis for twelve tracks that are steeped in homely familiarity in his latest body of work, ‘Mursejler.’ As the album progresses, we experience this artist’s development in real time, as the elements of the arrangements grow in density as the album unfolds, marking a clear progression in artistic craft and a confident step up from his preceding release. Effortly melodious and seamlessly mixed, for fans of this composer’s style, it is certainly worth the wait.


It’s no surprise to learn that this composer has a wealth of experience sharing music that stirs the imagination and nostalgia, having spent time in his early 20’s playing to old folks in nursing homes. The classic cinematic quality that these songs have and the dreamlike, sepia-tinged quality they have certainly strikes a resonant chord with the heartstrings. These songs are very gentle and predictable but never boring; kind of like hearing a favourite childhood story re-told in adulthood, with an air of mythical significance but comforting consistency.


Beginning delicately and simply, opening track ‘Styrhus’ is bittertsweet, whimsical yet melancholy, and the felten sound of hammers dully striking strings leaves plenty of room for detail between the cracks to emerge. The even rhythm in the following track ‘Snefri’ is emphasised with the constant click imbued in each attack of the hammers, which becomes a textural layer that sometimes competes with the tonality, but adds plenty of character. Next, ‘Lillian’ epitomises nostalgia with its beguiling sway, oozing a deep, dark charm. 


The arrangements of the early tracks focus on David’s 1919 piano with felt layered between the hammers and the strings to create a muted delicate sound. The fourth and fifth tracks of the album, ‘Mursejler’ and ‘Krypta’ showcase the composer and pianist at his best, with earnest, intimate musical sensibility. The former showcases a lovely arrangement and voicing of chords against melody, whilst in the latter the sound of the piano shines through with the more gentle playing, lulling us away like a small boat creaking as it’s rocked by the ocean’s waves. 


From here, things get a little more interesting, as the texture around the piano slowly develops, firstly with a stirring string section that swells beneath ‘Mormor’ which nicely bookends the first half of this album. Indeed, this sense of cadence at this point of the album will be appreciated all the more by vinyl fans, who will be able to get this recording on 180 gram limited edition vinyl. The record is tastefully mastered by Martyn Heyne (Lichte studio) complete with artwork by Jon Beacham.


On side two, we progress to ‘Flagra’ and ‘Dagsgy’ which are laced with just enough atmosphere to fly under the radar as we slowly drift away. The texture thickens out with effects and reverb in a washy colourful haze of sustained sounds, and the piano really begins to come alive. ‘Altid Aldrig’ again becomes a little overwhelmed in rhythmic texture, with the piano action sounding like soldiers marching hurriedly along to the music, but slowly washed out with the shimmery cinematic swell of sound that builds in texture, both hazy and mysterious. 

Next, two miniatures follow, ‘Legetøj’ and ‘Opsang’ which brings the focus right back to the immediacy of the piano, once again embracing sonorous solace and gentle meandering. Concluding with ‘Undervejs,’ this album leaves the listener both satisfied but in anticipation to see where this artist may explore next. The interwoven textures of this piece are so subtly layered and the piano becomes so effortless and carefree.


A consistent album overall with no great surprises, though this is exactly where the appeal of this work lies: its seamless gossamer sheen that veers from anything remotely jarring, offering something with softer edges and an incandescent warmth. Whilst not challenging the listener, the composer still succeeds in challenging himself, extending the sound of this muted instrument with gorgeous, mature arrangements and touches of subtlety. The inherent lack of dynamic range of this prepared instrument can present is well handled in the way it is situated in the album’s development and it’s a true success that the arrangement of the album allows this light and shade to find its way in around the shrouded core of this antique piano with all its hidden intricacies. 

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