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Nils Økland - Bris

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Artist: Nils Økland

Album: Bris

Label: Rune Grammofon

Review date: Mar. 7, 2005

Nils økland is a lapsed classical musician who plays the Hardanger fiddle, a Western Norwegian violin with sympathetic strings that create rich, ringing harmonics. His diverse musical education includes time spent playing punk rock and gypsy music, as well as deep research into Norway’s indigenous liturgical music, which was nearly extinguished a century and a half ago when churches started buying organs.

The title of this record, his second release for Rune Grammofon, translates as “Breeze,” and it blows from a different spot on the compass than either your average Nordic fiddle record or the bulk of the label’s catalog. You certainly won’t hear any Supersilent-style electronic processing. økland is pretty faithful to his instrument’s traditional sound; he played it with an old-fashioned birch bow on this recording, which was done in an old wooden church.

But neither his accompaniment nor his compositions replicate folk forms; on the title tune, for example, one percussionist sets up a swinging shuffle while the other makes some bowed metal sing. The presence of a double bass player sharpens the tune’s brisk whiff of jazz. Harmonium player Sigbjørn Apeland may be an established organist, but he’s also studied improvisation with Spontaneous Music Ensemble drummer John Stevens. In concert with the percussionists he invests the abstract, rustling “Myrkejeblått” with that heightened sense of the now that one most often finds in good free improvisation.

But the focus throughout Bris is on økland’s patient melodies, gorgeous string sound and immaculate sense of pacing. By alternating tone poems reminiscent of Maya Homburger and Barry Guy’s explorations of baroque music, dark pure sound explorations and lilting fare that’d keep your average Väsen fan happy, he’s come up with a record that transcends labels and rewards repeated listening.

By Bill Meyer

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