Mette Henriette: Drifting

In the eight years since her debut album, saxophonist and composer Mette Henriette has kept busy: She’s held residencies at Southbank Centre and Edvard Munch’s Ekely, performed at the opening night of the Berlin Jazz Festival, been commissioned by the Oslo Philharmonic and Cikada, and collaborated with conceptual artist Marina Abramović. Now, with her second LP, Drifting, the Sámi-Norwegian musician introduces a new degree of subtlety and serendipity to her work.

Henriette’s debut was expansive, spanning 35 tracks with the help of a 13-person ensemble. Drifting is also structured around short vignettes interspersed with longer pieces, but this time there are just 15 songs, and the lineup has shrunk to a trio. Stripping down her approach imparts a greater sense of intimacy. Each musician in this group—Johan Lindvall on piano, Judith Hamann on cello, and Henriette herself on saxophone—seems to have a distinct purpose, yet their playing is uniformly soft, lyrical, and emotionally resonant. Recorded at the Munch Museum in Oslo and produced by ECM founder Manfred Eicher, Drifting feels self-contained, yet unbounded by the pressures of time.

A grounded, meditative air pervades the music, despite its improvisatory character. Lindvall’s playing is central to this temperament: In most tracks, he lays down a simple repeated motif, either melodic or rhythmic, which Henriette and Hamann punctuate with saxophone and cello. His stable anchor provides the security that allows the other two players to wander. In “Across the Floor,” Lindvall’s chords establish a slow, somber waltz as Hamann bows longing strokes and Henriette’s saxophone twirls capriciously. The piece conjures an image of two bodies swaying together—one with deliberate movements, the other with whimsy—to the pulse of a piano sitting in the corner of a dusty dance studio.

Henriette continues to show an interest in pushing instruments past their usual roles, using extended techniques to add unexpected sounds and textures. In the barren interlude “0°,” she manipulates the air of the saxophone to create the effect of a cool, hollow wind, as though she had recorded in a walk-in freezer. This palette carries over into “Solsnu,” which adds ornaments of crackling wood from the cello, complemented by grave, patient piano figures that go in and out of unison with the sax, as though the two were passing trains. 

Drifting invites the curious sense that time has paused. But there are instances in which repetition threatens to become monotonous, and music feels stuck in its own cyclicality. For over half of the six-plus minutes of “Oversoar,” dissonant piano reiterates hiccupping outbursts over droning cello; the whirling piano figures of “I villvind” are reminiscent of passages in Debussy’s “Voiles,” but their relentlessness grows tiresome. Even in the album’s comparatively stagnant moments, though, Henriette’s musical curiosity remains evident. There is a certain comfort to be found in the passive energy of the album, which subtly unfolds according to its own timekeeping. It’s clear that Henrietta’s pieces ask not for attention—merely patience and an open mind.

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Mette Henriette: Drifting