Ozella Music: Nordic Beauty and Beyond
Label founder and guitarist Dagobert Böhm also records on Ozella Music and Circle Around has the honor of being the first item in the catalog. It is a delicately structured album of acoustic compositions where the spotlight is on the warm sounds of wood and steel. Böhm's guitar is front and center, but Manfred Zepf adds to the texture with his fretless bass and Harish Powar plays classical guitar.
The feeling of the record bears close affinity to the Windham Hill recordings of guitarist Alex de Grassi, especially his trilogy of early classics: Turning: Turning Back (Windham Hill, 1978), Slow Circle (Windham Hill, 1979) and Clockwork (Windham Hill, 1981). Like de Grassi, Böhm is not only technically adept, but also a natural storyteller with his instrument. A title like "Dreaming Strings" is a fine description of the music, which is often tranquil and dreamy. Böhm paints lush landscapes of melody with his instrument, but a composition like "Fast Spacer" shows another side of him that is just as much interested in rhythm.
Albums like Acoustic Unit (in-akustik, 1998) and String Unit (Ozella, 2000) sees Böhm broadening his palette, taking in larger ensembles and a wider palette of sounds that go beyond the lyrical new age of early Alex de Grassi, and instead he enters a territory of acoustic world music. With its emphasis on beauty, melody and rhythmic curiosity, Circle Around nevertheless bears the hallmark of an Ozella release.
Dagobert Böhm's background as a guitarist has given him a unique ability to recognize talent in fellow instrumentalists like Stephan Bormann and Michel Sajrawy. Axel Schultheiss is an example of a guitarist who, like Böhm himself, is not only technically capable and eager to expand the boundaries of his instrument, but also has an intuitive sense of melody and knows how to connect head and heart.
The cover of On Wings shows a flock of birds flying into a red sky and the sublime scenery of nature is connected to the sound of the guitar that soars and sings without words in the hands of Schultheiss, who clearly knows the important school of fingerstyle guitarists ranging from John Fahey and Robbie Basho to Pierre Bensusan and Michael Hedges. For instance, the title track, with its multi-layered acoustic ambience, owes much to the latter, but Schultheiss also has an admirable sense of space and limitation, which is shown on the haiku-like miniatures "Koan 1," "Koan 2" and "Koan 3" that all come across like little Eastern melodic meditations, capable of capturing the moment in a structure as fragile as a quick brush of paint on paper.
Many of the songs refer to nature, like "Sun after Rain," "Landscape" and "The Plain Sea." Titles like these are not empty labels, but true pointers of an organic music that captures the melancholy and wonder of the changing seasons and birds drifting toward the sea.
Por El Mar
Nature and the melodies of an acoustic guitar also play a major role on Josete Ordonez' album, providing a relaxed landscape of soothing sounds. Ozella has a superb series of lounge music titled Morning, Noon, Evening and Night and Ordonez is the perfect contender for the kind of organic and ethereal lounge presented in the series. The title track is a tribute to the ocean and is a gentle acoustic melody wrapped in women's voices and hushed drum beats that fall like waves against the beach. On "Date a Volar" a flute blows like a breeze in the air and "Cinco" uses choir, piano and acoustic strums to create a music that is warm and friendly.
Ordonez is an accomplished guitarist with jazzy flourishes, but first of all, he is a creator of moods. Every sound on the record adds to a mosaic that is meant to make the listener relax and enjoy life, but it isn't shallow hedonism, but rather a kind of ambience that allows the rhythm of life to slow down. In a way it is background music, but it is the kind of background that doesn't disappear into the air, but leaves a pleasant feeling in the room where it is played.
It's a long way from the sun-kissed landscapes of Josete Ordonez to the Nordic Winter of the Norwegian group Streif, but Ozella Music embraces all seasons of nature and there's no doubt that the label has a preference for the beauty and melancholy of Nordicespecially Norwegianmusic.
Streif is a quartet of multi-instrumentalists whose keen sense of folksong shines through on their album that is more joyful than the title might indicate. Many of the songs are dances and folksongs and some of them vibrate with rhythm. For instance, "Klarinettlått Etter" swirls around in a tightly knit dance between drums, clarinet and acoustic guitar.
Things are slowed down on the lullaby "Estlandsk Vuggevise" and the epic "Ballade." The former has a mild accordion taking the lead while the latter lets the horns sing through the frost.