Based and formed in Oslo in 1997, Trio Mediæval is a Norwegian/Swedish vocal ensemble whose repertoire features a wide range of medieval music from France, England or Italy, traditional Folk songs and ballads from the Nordic countries as well as contemporary music written for the trio by Gavin Bryars, the New-York-based collective Bang on a Can or David Lang for instance. Always thriving in a collaborative or improvisational mode, Anna Maria Friman (the Swedish-born member of the trio), Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Berit Opheim (who replaced Torunn Østrem Ossum in December 2013) have toured on many occasions over the last ten years with fellow Norwegian trumpet player and improviser Arve Henriksen.

Already on his superb 2008 release Cartography, Anna Maria Friman was a guest vocalist on one track and “Recording Angel” included a sample song from the trio. The trio also collaborated recently with the trumpet player on Sinikka Langeland’s 2016 release The Magical Forest. Recording a common repertoire for the first time, the musicians released Rímur on 3 March 2017 last on ECM Records.

Trio Mediæval & Arve Henriksen - Rímur (2017)
Trio Mediæval & Arve Henriksen – Rímur (2017)

Back in 1994, Norwegian musician Jan Garbarek wonderfully pitched his saxophones against the medieval polyphonic singing of the all-male voice quartet The Hilliard Ensemble. All sung in Latin, the performances on Officium included a repertoire ranging from early chants of unknown origin to 12th century hymns or polyphonic motets collected from various manuscripts.

Emulating a similar concept, the all-female trio and the trumpet of Arve Henriksen adopt this time a repertoire of hymns, folk songs and improvisations collected from sources in Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The album takes its name from the Rímur, the rhyming narrative verses found in the Icelandic tradition and which have been orally transmitted over the centuries.

It’s hard for us to imagine now, but until quite late in the medieval period relatively little sacred polyphony was heard at all. Monophonic chant was the rock on which almost all musical experience was founded. In this context, even music composed for just two voices would have made a very special impression.

As well as that, “improvisation has always been a natural and important part of Nordic oral tradition” notes Anna Maria Friman. As is often the case with tradition, different singers will have their own version of a particular song. Improvisation gave them the opportunity to add their own variations to songs which would then evolve naturally over time. Yet, in most cases, only one version was written down or recorded by collectors.

Trio Mediæval & Arve Henriksen on pocket trumpet – Alma Redemptorist Mater

The repertoire assembled on Rímur by the musicians reflects this approach: rejuvenating an age-old monophonic or two-voice repertoire and adapting it for three voices by introducing harmony and counterpoint. Arve Henriksen then acts as a fourth voice with a brass instrument naturally versed in improvisation.

On “O Jesu dulcissime” or “Du Är Den Första”, hardanger fiddle and shruti box complement the soundscape and provide additional rhythm or drone. “Krummi” is the only new composition on Rímur. Featuring wordless vocals from the trio along Arve Henriksen’s trademark ethereal trumpet lines, the song perhaps paves the way for a future collaborative project.