Weekly Jazz Review: Daniel Herskedal’s Slow Eastbound Train


(Released on 30th March, 2015)


The first piece of Slow Eastbound Train, “The Mistral Noir,” appropriates the representative sound of Herskedal’s tuba to a memorably simple melody. Thinly textured, the wind passing through brass gives way to a thick, high-pitched simulation of the irregular winter wind: the mistral. There is little by way of deviation or dissonance, and the uppermost layer of the music settles comfortably on the scarce surfaces beneath it.

Jazz conservatives like Philip Larkin and Louis Armstrong shared a great disdain for the irregularity of modern, post-war jazz (read: bebop), the latter having burst out saying there was “no melody to remember.” Over time, modern-jazz has bred its own clan of conservatives who, if I were to paraphrase sources close to me, cannot stand the shallow, atmospheric bullcrap of coital smooth jazz (“It is just music for sex, man!”) Since swing, we have missed too what Adorno called “the vocalization of the instrumental,” where sound still had a referent – human voice – and therefore meaning could be found outside the play of thirty-second notes and sixty-fourth notes, which make it hard to see outside the chaos created by the music itself; this is when Armstrong’s trumpet echoed his voice. Newer jazz made sound ethereal and inhuman.


Daniel Herskedal’s Slow Eastbound Train hurls these charges back into the mess of critical literature and typifies a journey, quite simply, through melodic jazz. It must not be shuffled – unless you desire to miss the movement from wind into rain, boat into train, the tempo change of a destination and the unhurried return in the end.

Representation or typification calls for familiar musical motifs, and so we hear the familiar tap of a brush on the drum when Herskedal wants us to feel the second piece, “Rainfall,” crash down about us; the piano takes over from brass and the fingers fall individually on each key as raindrops would on glass. But the album is colored not with finality, but with anticipation, and the rainfall signals no more than “Monsoon Coming,” the third track which, for lack of a better word, eastern-izes the rhythm section and introduces the minor scale, perhaps ominously prophesying an unpleasant end to the journey which is to come. The tuba, in the most wonderfully crafted final movement of the piece, speaks in a voice, until dissonance and minor tones force it away towards the very end.

“The Solar Winds Effects on Earth” is a lull in the list, an interlude, and much like one in a journey, it is tinted with reflection. It is spectacular in the way it transitions into the next piece, “Daniel’s Dust Devil,” a transition which occurs in a beautiful retardation of the rhythm from one track to a relay into the other. This piece is a monotonic tuba performance. Daniel’s dust devil is perhaps his breath which breaks through the tuba’s bass to become audible in the solo. This sound is audible for the first three seconds of the next piece, “Slow Eastbound Boat,” making for a seamless changeover from reflection to the actual journey. Both this piece and the eponymous next are filled with drawn-out, dawdling notes on the tuba. Set over an interesting metre with six beats to the bar, the melody often, marvelously, goes into whole notes set over the train-like irregularity of the drum sound.

“Snowfall,” the piece which follows, is not one which freezes your train in erstwhile Yugoslavia, dead in its tracks. It has instead the thrill of discovery in thickly textured music and quickly pelted out notes on the piano; the rhythm is again, vaguely “exotic,” indicating a happier end to an otherwise ominous prophecy of the end of the journey. The buzz of excitement boils over into “Crosswind Landing,” while “Bydlo,” a more or less ordinary piece with a pleasant melody sets the tone for the return. With the final piece, “Sea Breeze Front,” the prophecy, anticipation, and discovery, have all died away. The sounds are distant and the texture thin, almost homophonic, with the air of leaving more prominent than that of arriving.

Herskedal’s Slow Eastbound Train is very susceptible to summation, but to a summation of motive and attempt. It is very much a simpler time where having foreclosed the meaning of eleven neatly arranged pieces of music, one can let the spirit of ephemera take charge and lead you through the tubaist’s creation of sound.

Shantam Goyal

Image Source: The Viewspaper