Track Review: Daniel Herskedal: Free ft. Emilie Nicolas

‘If you’re looking for a track that’s transportive and truly transcendent, ‘Free’ is for you.’


For someone who ticks all the musical boxes that I subconsciously connect with, I have literally no idea how I have only just discovered award winning composer and tubist Daniel Herskedal. However now I have, I am obsessed. Coming from the Nordic’s – Norway to be precise – his music of course brings with it that special quality I have mentioned countless times when reviewing artists from this part of the world. But this time, with ‘Free’ being the second instalment of his new project ‘Out of the Fog’, that sensation feels stronger than ever. Is it because in going against what you expect to hear from tuba players our own expectations are exceeded? Is it the level of authenticity held within the music we are hearing? Or does it come down to the fact that, in Daniel working with the most perfect set of musicians, and the vocal wonder that is Emilie Nicolas, we hear something that has no sense of the musicality wavering? I know what my thoughts are. [Read more at: Behind the Music: Interview with Daniel Herskedal.]

Emerging from nothingness, the musical intentions held within Daniel Herskedal’s new release ‘Free’ come into auditory view. Instantly it’s like you’re hearing the soundtrack to the best of cinematic scenes. You know the kind. The kind that enables you to spot the smallest spec in the distance only for the camera to zoom in, in acceleratory fashion, to reveal a determined charge. That’s exactly what we have here. Ice-tinted electronics cut through, intricate, electric guitar motifs tussle with natural percussive ones and spiritual brass melodies call out into the surroundings. It’s utterly beautiful.

Having filled us with as much anticipation as we could wish, you soon find yourself trying to latch onto each of the aforementioned contrasting elements. In an effort to not miss out on the spellbinding bass trumpet, you mentally follow its story. The moments of breath allow you to digest the musical sentences. The pseudo call and response with itself offers up a want for literal conversation across the Norwegian plains. The balance of warming mid and high pitched tones brings a tenderness. There is indeed much to engage with and noticing how the freedom that underpins these melodies contains just as much, you realise the sheer quality of what you are experiencing.

Taking this already strengthening sensation up few notches, shortly after this moment of realisation we are treated to the most gorgeous of transitions. Switching up the brass content, Daniel’s much applauded tuba technique reveals itself below the emergence of Emilie Nicolas’ stunning vocals. Juxtaposing with each other, the deep, foreboding bass lines initially provide harmonic direction while the lyrical content sparkles and delicately dances high above. Something that Daniel then emulates in a playful, carefree manner to ensure these two, incredibly contrasting elements always sound as one.

Returning to solely instrumental content, following this a vamp-like pairing of syncopated guitar strums and soft percussion guides us seamlessly to what will become a sectional showcase of Daniel’s compositional prowess. Building on the previous emulation, harmonic interplay between tuba and hummed vocals provide an earwormy softness via their casual, effortless form. Then a re-introduction of picked guitar – in a much sparser setting this time – takes us to a further pairing of true vocals and bass trumpet. But this time it’s extra special.

Highlighting how the magic within ‘Free’ happens not just in the notes you hear but also the ones you don’t, where the sonics to this point have been of complexity and cross rhythms, here there is space. Space that completely and utterly enhances the melodic content occurring either side of it. Want an example? Take how the stripped back combination of hypnotising electric guitar lines and freely performed ethnic percussion carry an improvisatory, accompanying quality to them, regardless of whether there is indeed something to accompany. Want another? Focus in on how the bass trumpet and vocal melodies complement each other, carry no sense of hurriedness, and contain the most perfect phrase structures. See, I said it was extra special didn’t I?

Guiding us back to the true essence of not just this track, but the kind of compositions we can expect to hear on the forthcoming album from which ‘Free’ will feature, the apparent gentleness sublimely blends with a re-emergence of former textures. This time though, having experienced the musicality to now you get truly carried away by the expressiveness that pours out of every note, every motif, and every phrase.

Like a conjuror casting a spell, Emilie’s vocals sweep and soar causing her musicality to become increasingly mesmerising. Daniel’s ever-present brass qualities offer up countless surprises as they peek through their surroundings. The underlying complexity brought by the prowess of percussionist Helge Norbakken’s cross-culturally influenced rhythms gently intensifies the textures. And Eivind Aarset’s phase-shift-esque guitar motifs makes you wonder how the whole thing works so perfectly. But it just does, and in turn, makes the whole experience one that’s completely transportive and truly transcendent.

If this is only a taster of Daniel’s forthcoming album ‘Out of the Fog’, Autumn 2022 can’t come quickly enough.

One thought on “Track Review: Daniel Herskedal: Free ft. Emilie Nicolas

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: