Ydun by Jonathan Slaatto and Carsten Dahl is a duet of piano and cello energized by the improvisational techniques of Jazz.

Nils Blommér (1816–1853), Idun and Brage (1846), oil on canvas, 94.5 x 67.5 cm, Malmö konstmuseum, Malmö, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons.

The album Ydun, by classical cellist Jonathan Slaatto and jazz pianist Carsten Dahl, borrows its title from the goddess Iðunn. In the Icelandic epic Edda, Iðunn is a keeper of golden apples, a fruit with the magical ability to grant eternal youth. To summarize, a giant abducts Iðunn and as a result, the other gods begin to grow old. In the end, desperate to keep their youth, the aging and grey pantheon of gods rescue Iðunn and slay the giant.

Does Ydun refer to the goddess of youth in Norse Mythology? Is there a story behind the album title?

We picked the album title "Ydun" for several reasons. First and foremost, we liked the sound of the name. It is short and has a good rhythm, two vowels, and two consonants. Moreover, the tale of the Norse Goddess Ydun contains a wonderful paradox. Eternal youth is impossible, yet the idea itself can be ever so inspiring and productive.

"Ydun" is an improvised album therefor the track titles reflect that. For example, some tracks are made up (Fjeldtindur), either in meaning or in the spelling. One thing they have in common is what we perceive as a Nordic spirit. After recording 40 improvisations, we went for 11 introvert versions to give the album a unity of atmosphere. Endless, cold landscapes, lakes, long summer nights, wordless conversations and foggy, grey, November days. Those tracks were perhaps inspired by the stove we had going while it was freezing cold outside and Copenhagen showed itself with it's most gloomy winter face.

Photo of Jonathan Slaatto, Credit Nikolaj Lund

Like the aging gods in Iðunn’s story, Classical Music is often misunderstood as an old and out of date artform. Fortunately, a renaissance of new techniques and creativity is rejuvenating the genre. One technique is improvisation. Jonathan Slaatto and Carsten Dahl showcase its playful and subversive power. As a result, Ydun’s sound is challenging and unconventional.

At moments Ydun sounds like a rigorously composed classical album and at other times it has the characteristics of improvisation jazz. What role does improvisation play?

As mentioned above, every track on this album is improvised. The most planned track is Fjeldtindur because the backtrack is produced with short improvised sequences that are looped. The rest are all one-take improvisations. As you might hear, we added a second layer of overdub to some. Improvisation can go in many directions and different techniques can be used. We gave ourselves the task to just play whatever with no agreements or plans prior to each take. We wanted to avoid any kind of judgemental spirit. Carsten and I used our judgment afterward when choosing the tracks.

I agree with you that many of the tracks do sound composed. I come from a strictly classical background, whereas Carsten has worked as an experienced jazz musician for years. Both of us love our musical background and roots, but when being interested in music of all kinds, basic elements as shape, structure, and waves are found in all styles. For me, improvising is all about going back to these universal musical codes and applying them to the moment.

Photo of Carsten Dahl Courtesy of Jonathan Slaatto

Nearly all works of Jazz contain heavy improvisation. In contrast, Classical Music is obsessed with historical accuracy and as a result, improvisation is rarely expressed. The album Ydun changes that. The creative characteristics of jazz influence the classical music of Ydun. Carsten Dahl brings improvisation techniques to the classically trained cellist Jonathan Slaatto.  The strength of one discipline improves upon the weaknesses of the other. After all, isn’t that the point of any good collaboration?

How do you define and what do you expect from collaboration?

Our collaboration began in 2008. I am a classical musician, playing chamber music full time. Carsten Dahl is a celebrated jazz pianist. We met in Ensemble MidtVest in Denmark, when Carsten was asked to inspire this classical ensemble to improvise. Or, as we perceived it later, compose in the moment. During these years we got the idea to make a record together, only cello and piano. I love Carsten's sound and sense of musical breadth, and as the feeling seemed to be mutual we gave it a try. The result was "Ydun". We are planning a sequel, perhaps together with yet another musician. Our collaboration is a wonderful playground of non-planning. We use the inspiration we've gathered from our different backgrounds and go back to our individual musical and artistic careers to refuel before our next meeting.

Photo Credit Jonathan Slaatto

Improvised music can sound complex and disorderly therefore trying to understand it can be difficult. Ydun presents several challenging moments but they are organized around a structure of calming melody. The music gently leads you into esoteric waters. When you find yourself unexpectedly submerged in entropic sound, enjoy it while it lasts, a comfortable melody is always moments away.

Ydun seems to gently dismantle some of the esoteric walls around classical and jazz music. When you’re releasing an album into the world, is accessibility something that you concern yourself with?

When recording this album, I had no desire to dismantle walls. But I'm happy that you can perceive it as such, after all, that is one of the greatest compliments any artist can get. Accessibility has always been something that interests me a lot. I'm intrigued by anything that catches me. If it is a picture, a movie, a tune, anything. What is it that makes an experience click with me? A lot can be explained with algorithms and formulas, but the most memorable moments will always be a mystery. I'm sure that we can come close to an accurate definition. But the more information we have about how to create those special moments, the more we will crave for that unexplainable something.

Yet when recording this album, none of us had accessibility as a priority. Other than believing that if the music did something for us, it would probably work for others as well.

Album art by Øivind Slaatto

Photography by Nikolaj Lund