Saxophonist Linda Fredriksson might be known from the lavish jazz-rap ensemble Ricky-Tick Big Band or the rowdy, punkish trio Mopo, but on their solo debut Juniper they introduce a different side of themselves. It is a beautiful meditation around personal affections and private sceneries, pieced together from sounds created over several years.
“Sometimes it’s fun to be hyper-analytical with music”, says saxophonist Linda Fredriksson.
“What are the parameters that make a song sound good? What makes it sound bad? And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, rather as a source of information. Why does a keyboard sound come off as goofy or cheap in one place but beautiful in another?”
Among other things, these kinds of questions Linda Fredriksson dealt with while working on their debut album "Juniper". Sonically it feels like a well-woven, multi-layered artisanal fabric with sounds and atmospheres from a myriad of sources.
There are so many small details that affect the feeling you get from someone’s playing: the phrasing, the time, the tone of voice.
“Often this discussion about sounds and timbres concerns just people’s voices – whether they sing with a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ feeling, but I think that it applies on instruments as well. “
Their weapon of choice is a prime example. A saxophone truly is an exceptionally vibrant instrument with a range of sounds from abrasive, aggressive free jazz violence to soft, soothing lullabies. The spectrum of life, one could say.
“There are so many small details that affect the feeling you get from someone’s playing: the phrasing, the time, the tone of voice. It’s a thing that never ceases to interest me.”
A new kind of spatiality
The musical pieces on "Juniper" feel like a collection of personal, liminal spaces rather than mere compositions. At times the album feels almost like a diary. This might be thanks to different ambiences Fredriksson has recorded – from rainfalls, summer cottages and living rooms throughout the years. The hisses, breezes and noises are very subtle, yet they give the album a unique feeling of presence.
“I got really interested in the concept of spatiality in music while working with Laura Naukkarinen (a.k.a. Lau Nau) and Matti Bye. Especially Laura has done some gorgeous field recordings! My ears opened to listen to spaces in a new way: a melody feels completely different if it’s backed by the steady hum of a forest”.
“Yet my goal was to use the recordings as stealthily as possible. If a listener doesn’t pay any rational attention to them while listening, I’ve succeeded in my task.”
My ears opened to listen to spaces in a new way. A melody feels completely different if it’s backed by the steady hum of a forest.
It’s a clever method. You truly have to sharpen your ears in order to make out the contours of the ambiences: the quiet rain at the opening track Neon Light [and the Sky Was Trans] or the friendly buzz of a conversation in the midst of Lempilauluni.
“It was sheer experimentation: would a clip of my friends chattering in my kitchen fit here? Why not, since it ended up changing the mood significantly. Surely there were other parts where these sounds didn’t fit at all, so I didn’t use them.”
Pinetree Song also includes the sound of a “perfectly creaky pine bark”. Despite this, trees per se are not a general theme on the album.
“The word ‘juniper’ just felt aesthetically right for me. When I saw it written down I immediately got a sense of spatiality from it. It bears the might of a forest. Also it sounds a bit like ‘Jupiter’, which also has a certain grandness that I like.”
Anthems for grandmothers written with ragged guitars and cheap keyboards
Juniper’s diary-like essence can also be heard in the choice of it’s instruments and in how they were recorded.
“I have this thrashed out acoustic guitar I got from my friend Onni when I was a kid. I love its sound, so I still use it for composing. I recorded the guitar for a demo pattern with a laptop mic in my kitchen. My intention was to nail it in the studio with proper equipment, but in the end that recording didn’t have that same feeling. So I ended up using the lo-fi demo part instead.”
This method felt a bit heretical at first, they admit.
“I did ask myself if I'm truly allowed to do this. But I had to, in order to make the album feel like it was played in someone’s living room or on the porch of their cottage. I felt very excited bringing these lo-fi techniques together with passages recorded in professional environments.”
It felt liberating to play these worn out instruments, since I didn’t have a fear of doing anything ‘wrong’.
“I also used this cheap old keyboard I got from another childhood friend Laura. I found some magnificent sounds from it when I played it through a set of pedals. It felt liberating to play these worn out instruments, since I didn’t have fear of doing anything ‘wrong’. Working with some really fancy synths would’ve felt much clumsier.”
People important to Fredriksson are present on the album not only via old instruments.
“The outro of the song Nana – Tepalle [“for Tepa”] was the last unfinished part on the album. When I worked on it, my grandmother started to fall ill and eventually passed away. I realized that I have to dedicate this composition to her, it had that certain kind of essence. It also came to my knowledge that ‘nana’ is Spanish for grandmother.”
Instrumental music, inspired by singer-songwriters
The paradigm of forward-thinking saxophone playing has shifted from Mats Gustafsson’s, Anthony Braxton’s or Peter Brötzmann’s fiery, masculine free jazz shenanigans to longer, ruminative and more minimalistic compositions. It’s easy to parallel "Juniper’s" vivid melody arcs to such contemporary sax experimentalists as Colin Stetson, Sam Gendel or Joseph Shabason.
Fredriksson admits on not being an expert on modern saxophone artists.
“I know Colin [Stetson], yet sometimes I feel a bit guilty when I don’t follow the latest sounds of the scene... But maybe it doesn’t matter!”
“Actually there’s this one Icelandic album I really love: The Box Tree by Skúli Sverrisson & Óskar Guðjónsson. It’s a duo of a saxophone and a baritone guitar, and they have an almost baroque-esque thing going on. Absolutely beautiful music.”
The foundation of a song is quite simple in my opinion. If the melody and the accompaniment work alone, you can shape the composition in any way you like.
Despite that Fredriksson’s music is mostly wordless, it’s inspired by a bunch of singer-songwriters, both old and new. Apart from household jazz names such as Alice Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders, of course.
“I like the way Feist produces her albums: the songs are intimate and they combine gritty recordings with hi-fi. Sufjan Stevens’ "Carrie and Lowell" is a tremendously important album for me. I also like Billie Eilish for her minimalist approach.”
“The foundation of a song is quite simple in my opinion. If the melody and the accompaniment work alone, you can shape the composition in any way you like.”
This is also the reason why Fredriksson composes almost all or their music by guitar or piano.
“I very rarely start my work from the sax. It’s easier to accompany yourself with chords whilst humming the melody. And since neither of them are my main instrument, I can’t spoil the composing process with too much rationality. Especially when I move my fingers higher on the guitar neck it gets harder to figure out what happens next, and I love that! I think it really serves the composition when I can get outside of my thinking.”