The Zoo Is Far

Christian Wallumrød Ensemble

Extraordinarily concentrated music from the new, expanded ensemble led by Norwegian pianist composer Christian Wallumrød, which introduces three new string players – violinist Gjermund Larsen from the Norwegian folk tradition, classical and improvising cellist Tanja Orning, and Swiss baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi. Together, and along with the long-serving Arve Henriksen and Per Oddvar Johansen, they focus their resources on Wallumrød’s music. Not a note is wasted in these pieces. This is true ensemble music, uniquely nuanced.

Featured Artists Recorded

October 2006, Radio Studio DRS, Zürich

Original Release Date


  • 1Nash Lontano
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 2Backwards Henry II
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 3Parkins Cembalo
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 4Fragment no. 6
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 5Psalm Kvaen, solo
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 6Fragment no. 2
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 7Music For One Cat
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 8Arch Dance
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 9Psalm Kvaen, tutti
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 10The Zoo Is Far
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 11Fragment no. 7
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 12Backwards Henry I
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 13Fragment no. 3
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 14Detach A
    (Arve Henriksen, Christian Wallumrød, Tanja Orning)
  • 15Need Elp
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 16Psalm Kvaen, trio
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 17Detach B
    (Arve Henriksen, Christian Wallumrød, Gjermund Larsen)
  • 18Backwards Henry With Drums
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 19Arpa
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 20Detach C
    (Arve Henriksen, Christian Wallumrød, Gjermund Larsen, Tanja Orning)
  • 21Arch Dance With Trumpet
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 22Fragment no. 1
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 23Psalm Kvaen, quartet
    (Christian Wallumrød)
  • 24Allemande Es
    (Christian Wallumrød)
The evolution of Christian Wallumrød’s music on the ECM label … has been a source of quiet fascination. … The Zoo Is Far  presents a larger ensemble than previous albums and concentrates on composed material in a series of twenty four musical episodes … The writing is dense, dark and seems to hover in the air, like a mist moving in across a Norwegian fjord. Henriksen, Larsen and Orning combine to create a sound that is not simply trumpet, violin and cello but a distinctive, almost vocal sounding, tonal area that outlines Wallumrød’s melodies while his piano provides both accompaniment and counterpoint. … Assigning labels to this music somehow misses the point of its dark beauty and melodies that somehow resonate within a part of us so deep we daren’t explore.
Stuart Nicholson, Jazzwise
Stately string statements, doomy repeated figures under strident violin, dark skirls of sound, filigree-delicate passages set against floating backdrops – an extraordinary range of textures and timbres is combined, contrasted and juxtaposed throughout this album to produce an absorbing and surprisingly coherent whole. The continual reappearance of themes in different guises serves to bind the music together, and the space granted to the individual musicians by Wallumrød’s approach clearly enables all of them to locate a still centre of inspiration in themselves.
Chris Parker, Jazzreview
Il rêve d’un autre jazz, comme s’il avait été inventé un peu plus au Nord, comme s’il était, à l’origine, un folklore imaginaire se jouant à hauteur d’homme. Et quitte à rêver, justement, on se dit que David Sylvian ou Björk devraient jeter une oreille attentive à cet Ensemble libre comme l’air. Avec ce genre d’album, ECM reste décidément à la pointe de la modernité. Recommandé.
Frédéric Goaty, Jazz Magazine
Explicitly moving away from jazz with this sextet despite the presence of musicians with jazz backgrounds, including himself, Wallumrød has reduced these elements to the peripheral, seeking, above all, a through-composed ensemble music that reflects his contacts with contemporary classical, baroque, Norwegian folk and church music. It’s exquisitely performed; the permutating blend of trumpet-violin/Hardanger fiddle/viola-cello-baroque harp and piano or harmonium, with rhythm, is uniquely beautiful.
Ray Comiskey, Irish Times
Mit The Zoo Is Far präsentiert Wallumrød erstmals sein neues Sextett auf CD – ohne Bass, dafür aber mit Cello, Violine und Barockharfe. Die kompositorischen Fähigkeiten Wallumrøds sind längst über jeden Zweifel erhaben… Vor allem aber ist er ein Meister des Group Sound. Wie er auf The Zoo Is Far die Instrumentenstimmen zunächst eigentümlich egalisiert hat, um sie aus diesem instrumentalen Gesamtkontext heraus zu einem so noch nicht gehörten Leuchten zu bringen – wohlgemerkt, ohne dafür klassische Solisten-Positionen besetzen zu müssen -, ist schlicht phänomenal. Um es klar zu sagen: Diesen Künstler und seine Musik nicht zu kennen, ist ein unverzeihliches Versäumnis.
Volker Doberstein, Jazzpodium
Spannend, wie subtil Wallumrød mit neuem Ensemble 24 Miniaturen im Spannungsfeld von aktuellem Jazz und Kammermusik inszeniert. Klänge von hypnotischer Kraft und, bei aller Reduktion, opulenter Fülle. Begegnen sich doch drei Antipoden: Piano und Barockharfe, Hardanger Fiddle und Cello, Drums und Trompete. Und formen ein Sternbild von galaktischer Schönheit – warm, zart.
Sven Thielmann, Stereoplay

“The Ensemble is this time expanded to a sextet, yet sounds like one organic corpus. Fiddle, harp, cello and trumpet melt together in beautiful melodies like ‘Nash Lontano’. In ‘Arch Dance’ a serial horizontal gesture from piano and glockenspiel is deconstructed in descending glissandi by trumpet and cello... Fragments of Henry Purcell and variations on ‘Psalm Kvaen’ contribute to a structured total experience.”
- Carl Petter Opsahl, Verdens Gang (Norwegian daily newspaper), March 6/2007

“The Zoo Is Far”, the fourth ECM album by Norwegian pianist-composer Christian Wallumrød, presents a further refinement of a highly original group music influenced, in varying degree, by contemporary composition, baroque music, folk, Asian music and - at several removes now - jazz. The new sextet does not replace the quartet that made the exceptional “Sofienberg Variations” and “A Year from Easter”, discs on which Wallumrød, Arve Henriksen and Per Oddvar Johansen were joined by innovative folk violinist Nils Økland. The quartet continues to perform, but the sextet has already acquired a personality and character of its own, reflected in Wallumrød’s tightly written material for it, his combining of sounds and timbres as well as melodic material...

“I am trying to look for the various ensemble sound possibilities rather than having a ‘soloist with accompaniment’ situation. I found lots of new possibilities with this sextet, perhaps most of all in the lower register, as the baroque harp goes quite deep down, and so does the cello. And the piano goes even deeper; all these elements also offer the bass drum some new partners...”

The sextet’s genesis was inspired by a chance meeting with Swiss harpist Giovanna Pessi in Zürich in 2003. The combining of harp and piano was an option Wallumrød had already begun to investigate in 2000 in exploratory concerts with Finland’s Iro Haarla. The opportunity to take this further was welcomed. “The baroque harp has a different sound and differs from the modern harp in the way it is constructed, something that made it a bit easier for me to approach as well. As I was looking for extended possibilities of range and colours within the bowed instruments and already knew about cellist Tanja Orning’s musical versatility, it felt quite natural to ask her to join in, too.” The line-up of the new group was complete with the addition of violinist Gjermund Larsen.

Each of these three players brings a wealth of experience to the total group sound. Pessi’s distinguished resumé includes collaborations with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Jordi Savall, as well as several years of study with Rolf Lislevand. Tanja Orning, previously principal cellist in the Stavanger Symphony is a musician at ease across several genres, open to new music, experienced in rock and interdisciplinary music, she released the album “Cellotronics” (Albedo Records) in 2005, a collaboration with Christian Wallumrød. Gjermund Larsen is a young player from the Norwegian folk tradition. Born 1981, and the son of folk musician Geir Egil Larsen, Gjermund won the national solo fiddle competition at Landskappleiken in 2002, and is the youngest winner in the history of the event.

“Arve Henriksen, as well as Tanja Orning and Gjermund Larsen have this ability to blend perfectly into each other and into the whole ensemble...”

In the Radio Studio of DRS Zürich, with Manfred Eicher producing and classical tonmeister Markus Heiland – more normally associated with ECM New Series – as engineer, the Wallumrød Ensemble approached the recording of “The Zoo Is Far” as they do their entirely-acoustic concert performances, working also with the natural sound of the room as one of the components of the music.

“I’ve long wanted to record the music in a way that puts the acoustic sound – the instruments, the room and the whole situation that influences the way we listen and play – into focus. This means that we can interact in the same way as in the concert situation. While this approach might be the most natural thing for classical musicians, it is a crucial step in my musical development. Today I am thinking about the ensemble and its performance as something that might belong to the world of chamber music.“

Specific musical influences on the pieces on “The Zoo Is Far” derive from Wallumrød’s intense listening to the Fantazias for strings by Henry Purcell (1659-95). Extracts of Purcell’s music are transformed in the three “Backwards Henry” pieces here. “Music for One Cat” is inspired by the Pakistani ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan. The “Psalm Kvæn” pieces were originally written in response to a choral commission. “I think it was natural for me to try to keep within a sort of Norwegian psalm tradition, which is characterized by its idiomatic blend of originally Lutheran chorals and folk songs.”

Yet however many references may be pinpointed the overriding impression the album leaves is one of striking originality and musical independence. As the Norwegian daily paper Verdens Gaang remarks of “The Zoo Is Far”: “Jazz, baroque, minimalism, contemporary music are words that only begin to convey a small spectrum of Wallumrød’s musical universe. He has an authentic sense of sound and structure, and again we are spellbound by the unique syntheses and the balanced contrasts.”