As the title of Merje Kägu’s debut as a leader and composer, When Silence Falls (Losen Records), suggests, the Sweden-based guitarist deals in subtlety. On the seven compositions on this album, even when the pulse is true and the melodic line active, the mood is one of introspection, as if the players are deep in musical meditation.

 Listeners cannot help but be engaged in Kägu’s creative sojourn, personal as it seems to be. In her explorations she pulls together ideas from different traditions but in a restrained manner: on one tune she’ll finesse a winding guitar solo against a straight rhythm section (“Time To Grow”), on another she uses strings in a classical setting without any rhythm section at all (“Linda”), and on yet another she pits a modern off-center line in the woodwinds against a lyric vocal melody (“To Find Yourself Is To Lose Yourself”). Intriguingly, the focus of Kägu’s compositions is often a gossamer-like duet section—violin and cello, oboe and flute, voice and violin—either in steady unison or fleeting harmony. Just about every tune has one of these duets, and in these musical dialogues lie much of the compositions’ simple, sophisticated drama.  

 Kägu formed the seven-person cross-over group she uses on this album two years ago Gothenburg, Sweden, drawing her players from several different countries and the divergent spheres of classical, jazz, world, and improvised music. The group cohesion is strong, however, and all the players demonstrate equal facility in written and improvised music—a rare thing. Their shared expertise is in full force on the title cut, the longest track on the album and most variegated. Here, the strings hold the tempo while the woodwinds drive the motion and the percussion adds the color; these sorts of role reversals are not only clever but thought-provoking.  

 When Silence Falls: To Find Yourself Is To Lose Yourself; Time To Grow; Esperando um Capricórnio; Diana; Linda; Journey of Awakening; When Silence Falls. (62:25)

Personnel: Merje Kägu, guitar; Anders Jormin, double bass; Jesse Ojajärvi, drums; Åsa B. Johansson, violin, voice; Leonor Palazzo, cello; Marina Cyrino, flute; Blanca Sans Ballart, oboe, English horn.

(Reprinted from the February 2019 issue of Downbeat magazine.)