Flutist/Composer Elsa Nilsson Echoes and Illuminates the Chants of a Nation on Hindsight

Due out February 21, 2020

Sweden-native, New York City-based flutist and composer Elsa Nilsson is proud to announce the February 21st release of Hindsight, her third album as a leader. Hindsight is a direct reaction to the result of the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the issues that have manifested since; it is a ten-track collection of resistance compositions, embedded with the rhythmic chants of a nation. The Elsa Nilsson Quartet features Jeff McLaughlin on guitar, Alex Minier on bass and Cody Rahn on drums/percussion. Throughout 2020, Elsa will tour this music across Pennsylvania, North Carolina, West Virginia, Vermont, Gothenburg, Malmö, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Before and during this tour, videos for each of the tracks will be released – each of which have been created by individuals who experience, or are at least exposed to the direct effects of the social and political disorder brought to light by these compositions. 

With every political and social issue that resonated with the flutist came a new composition – an outlet for objection and resistance. Upon bringing this music to her band, the individual rage, frustration and confusion that Nilsson had been harboring found support and solidarity as the musicians added their thoughts and perspectives, giving the music expanded depth. Nilsson says: “the music became a record of our reactions to the changing world around us. My mission with Hindsight is both to express my feelings around the topics I care deeply about, show solidarity with everyone who is directly affected and gratitude for everyone who is showing up to make a difference in any way they can.” 

Music is both a reaction to and an influence on its culture. The flute is her voice and on Hindsight Elsa Nilsson uses it to translate the language of political movement. Music begins to communicate where language ends. It is an attempt to describe what we can’t even understand – to communicate a thought that hasn’t been fully formed. This band imbibes the energy of rock n’ roll, the cadence of street protest, the visceral improvisations of jazz and the compositional language of Classical music to express the emotional turmoil that goes beyond words in reaction to the state of our world. There is democracy in improvised music. All voices are heard and are integral to the argument, even if one voice is leading the conversation. Each person leads the discussion, at some point or another. If a voice is missing, the absence is felt. There is democracy in music, but there is also music in democracy. Elsa saw that music in the protest chants that inspired this album. The improvisations and compositions heard on Hindsight intertwines dialog from speeches and the rhythms from protest marches that Elsa has witnessed and been a part of. 

“Changed In Mid Air” was inspired by the infamous Travel Ban. It captures the uncertainty of the traveler, the fear of having the rug pulled out from under you and the action of all those who came to the airport to protest and help. The chant used is “Say It Loud, Say It Clear, Refugees Are Welcome Here”.  “Worth The Risk/Maria” describes the process of realizing you are being forced to leave your home. There are moments of imagining a better life, the dream of who you could be if you get to where you are heading safely. No one chooses to be a refugee, but some things are worth the risk. “Maria” is the storm. Both the literal storm of Hurricane Maria hitting Puerto Rico and the figurative storm of the dangers of imigration and the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers at the border. “Will Help Come” expresses the long wait for aid after Hurricane Maria hits. Faith turns into desperation. 

“Enough Is Enough” forces its audience to reflect upon another recent tragedy in US history. The tune is 6 minutes and 20 seconds long – the exact length of time that the gunman was active at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school. It uses the rhythms from chants “Enough is Enough” and “We Call BS”. 

“Hindsight” is the seed of this entire project. It is a reaction to a broken system, a system where people feel their votes don’t matter, resulting in a government that they feel doesn’t represent them. “What Can I Do” stems from the rhythm of “Black Lives Matter”. This piece is built around the rigid structure of an 11 note tone row that we then have to navigate within, much like how citizens of a nation need to figure out how to exist within the structures of institutionalized racism and its effects on their psyche and society. Traditionally this compositional technique uses 12 notes, but I left one note out to represent what we are leaving out in how we relate to each other on issues of race. 

“Trickle Down” is based on “We Are The 99%” and is a representation of how we are taught to believe that if we work hard we will get what we deserve. Unfortunately, there are many unpleasant factors involved; socio-economic background, race, gender, privilege, debt, luck and more all play an inexorable role. 

The album shifts to the topic of the Kavanaugh hearings with “I Believe You” and “Fill The Courts”. “I Believe You” moves through the immense bravery of Dr. Ford coming forward with her story, the hope of her being believed and into the realization that it didn’t change a thing. “Fill The Courts” expresses the unstoppable momentum of the years of setup to fill the courts with conservative justices. The amount of preparation and planning that has gone in to making it possible for the current administration to fill so many vacant court seats is – to Elsa – overwhelming. The video for this track, which will be released in April, is credited to Lisa Russel – a filmmaker for the UN. 

The album closes with “We Show Up” – the composer’s anthem of gratitude for everyone who stands up and gets involved in the causes they believe in. “Every time I see anyone take action, stand in line outside their polling location, speak out on behalf of others or change their own ways for the better, it gives me hope. I wanted to end this record with a piece to honor the best in all of us. I truly believe we are not alone in this. We don’t have to agree, but the urge to make the world better is a fundamental human instinct that we need to nurture.”

In recording and playing this music live, it has taken on a life of its own – it now belongs to every listener and audience member. These songs that began with the flutist alone in her practice room have grown, much like the chants have and continue to do so in the streets. 

More about Elsa Nilsson

Born in Gothenburg, Sweden, Nilsson started her love-affair with music at age two, singing in her father’s ex-Navy choir. By the time she was accepted to Hvitfeldtska Gymnasium (a conservatory-style program in Gothenburg, Sweden) at age 15, she had fallen in love with the flute and began teaching herself by playing along to jazz and world-music records. At 18 Nilsson chose to continue her studies in the United States, completing a BM from Cornish College of the Arts in 2008 and MM from New York University in 2013. Nilsson is the winner of the National Flute Association 2018 Jazz Flute competition. She has studied with Chris Potter, Peter Bernstein, Kenny Werner, Jean-Michele Pilc, Robert Dick, Jamie Baum, Brad Shepik and many more in the process of obtaining her Masters degree from NYU’s Jazz Program. Elsa has performed with the likes of Jon Cowherd, Robert Dick, Jamie Baum, Dawn Clement, Jessica Lurie, Davy Mooney, Marc Ferber, Brad Shepik, Matt Clohesy, Jonathan Blake, Stacy Dillard, Sebastian NoelleKenny Werner’s NYU ensemble, The Jim Knapp Orchestra, Jovino Santos Neto and more. Listen to Elsa Nilsson’s compositions and you’ll know who she is.  When you break them apart, each of her songs has technical intricacies that could be discussed for days, but that’s not why the melodies randomly pop into your head days later. Elsa obsessively works to create a balance between musicianship and emotion, allowing each song to tell its story, a story where the listener is the protagonist. She is equally open with her collaborators and her audience, while uncompromising on the integrity of her art. The Elsa Nilsson Quartet performs regularly at the 55 bar in New York City and has also played at Blue Note Jazz Club (NYC), Cornelia Street Cafe (NYC), Rockwood Music Hall (NYC), Nublu Jazz Festival (NYC), Discover Jazz Festival (Burlington, VT), Nefertiti Jazz Club (Gothenburg, Sweden), Charlie Scotts (Copenhagen, Denmark) and Aarhus Jazz Festival (Aarhus, Denmark).

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