English poet John Donne once remarked that “no man is an island, completely alone.” The debut album “Island” of the Estonian-Belgian joint ensemble Estbel (11 tracks, total duration approximately 45 minutes) is an expressive example of that.
Three out of four members of the ensemble have written songs for the album and naturally each of them has their own style. Hartwin Dhoore’s four instrumental pieces paint pictures of moods, after which Leana Vapper-Dhoore and Sänni Noormets’s stories alternate. Only one track has been written in collaboration between Hartwin and Leana. But this does not mean that the album in question is a collection of solos, the ingredients of which do not match. Far from it. It does constitute a uniform, varied whole. Different styles create versatility, but the well-suited ensemble provides a sound, which ties these tracks together, creating a delicious sense of belonging.
“Island” was named after the fact that Estbel first really met in Saaremaa, and these songs do carry the smell of junipers, but it could be subtitled “before the dawn, after the dusk”, as this is where I think these songs are the best suited.
Perhaps right now I am also a little influenced by the design of the album (the members of the ensemble posing on the backdrop of a starry sky visible through mist), but it seems to me that these songs would sound better by a quiet sea during the night, right before morning or immediately after sunset, when it is not pitch black, but the sun is gone or not above the horizon yet. Stars shine in the sky, of course, but, somewhere there, there is a bonfire or a lighthouse showing the way, with the sun only a faint glow on the horizon, if that. And then these songs sound.
The leaflet of the album has an accompanying text for each track. The first one is “Notsud” (“Piglets”), which reads: “Hartwin takes Estonian lessons every week in Leedri (a small village in Saaremaa). One day he saw a whole family of wild boars on the way. Back home, he announced happily that he had seen five “piglets” and wrote a song for them.”
I don’t know whether or how much the other Estonian folk ensembles have inspired or influenced the writing of these songs, but the titles of some of them already refer to the cultural space or mental field that somehow unites different groups. For example, “Peterburi” (“St. Petersburg”) written by Sänni Noormets reminded me of “Peterburi valss” (“Waltz of St. Petersburg”) by zither trio Soon/Piho/Lepasson (from their debut album “Tempo di Vals”, which came out last year). The album ends with the song “Öö ja päeva vahel” (“Between Day and Night”) – the debut album of the ensemble Antsud bears the same name! A coincidence? Maybe, but maybe not. There is a lot to ponder over, anyway.
So, these delicious tracks float in the great imagination that is called music, where no track is an island, completely alone, but where everyone can have their own island, completely alone.