CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Frode Haltli – Avant Folk

Frode Haltli – Avant Folk
(Hubro CD/LP 2604. Review by Peter Bacon)

The album title is pretty accurate, but the cynical might think: oh, I know what that will sound like.  After all, there are a quite a few Scandinavian bands doing what might be called “avant-folk”.
And to a certain extent the cynics would be right.

Accordionist Frode Haltli and his collaborators – among them Erlend Apneseth on Hardanger fiddles, Ståle Storløkken on harmonium, and Hans P Kjorstad on violin – move comfortably between what we journalists label genres (traditional folk, jazz, contemporary composition, improv, world music) and what musicians rightly say is “just music”.

This album doesn’t move in quite the usual way, though. For a start, they are joined by Hildegunn Øiseth on trumpet and goat horn, Rolf-Erik Nystrøm on saxophones, Juhani Silvola and Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir on guitars, Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson on double bass and Siv Øyunn Kjenstad on drums and vocals. The trumpet and saxophone bring fresh textures to the folk sound and the guitars plus added electronics stretch it further.

And while there is a fair share of traditional sounding (and even actual traditional) melody underscored by sometimes jazzy harmonies, there is also more left-field stuff. Take Kingo, based on a Faroese hymn. It starts out with accordion and harmonium grumbling over an insistent low beat, the harmonies taking on a middle-eastern tinge. Fiddles sing over the top and the beat grows into more of a groove; then an electric guitar emerges in a solo which recalls Ali Farka Toure and the West African desert blues.

Grâta’n incorporates a background of synthesized atmosphere, all dark and dripping, echoing,  underground and stretching away to blackness (has The Killing’s Sarah Lund descended into another underground cavern armed with only a Scandi sweater and a dying torch?). When an achingly lovely violin tune emerges over the top it comes as a real surprise, while also sounding strangely fitting. The mood is initially continued in the closer, Neid, but it slowly unfurls over its 13 minutes to take in some extended jazz improvisations above a gradually more and more loping groove, creating along the way, as have the previous four pieces, a real depth. It coalesces into a stately repeated riff underlying an impassioned saxophone solo before dissipating into something freer and less tangible, and finally returning to avant-folk earth.

I suspect some of the credit for the range of the album should go not only to Haltli but also his co-producer, the avant-garde sound artist Maja S.K. Ratkje.

Not your average avant-folk album then. A fascinating and darkly lovely experience.

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