By Mike Shanley
The German jazz and classical label ECM has a reputation for a specific sound, whether the release in question is free and fiery or quiet and quasi-new age. Their albums have an expansive quality that evokes the chill and feeling of snowcapped mountains of Europe. Take one of those expansive scenes from Dr. Zhivago and imagine the sound of an acoustic piano emanating from the mountain top, and you’ll get something of an idea.
Pianist/vocalist Agnes Obel doesn’t record for ECM, but a similar sound and feeling comes across on Aventine, her second album, following the much-heralded 2010 debut Philharmonics. (It went platinum in her native Denmark.) Most of the sophomore album consists of just Obel and her piano. For added instrumentation, she uses cello, viola, violin and, on “Pass Them By,” guitar. The cello drives some of the tracks. The other instruments act more as embellishment to Obel’s writing, which has a folky quality: simple melody lines, and little in the way of variation from verse to chorus, if those distinctions can even be drawn.
The one song that has something close to a “rock” or “pop” feeling, “Fivefold,” is a brief instrumental. So the main focal point is Obel’s simple chords and strong voice, with its thick accent. The ECM might not be too much of a stretch since Aventine was recorded in Berlin. It has a good sound to it, but as a whole, the misty quality in many of the songs doesn’t have much of a lasting impact.
DOWNLOAD: “Run Cried and Crawling,” “The Curse.”