Thursday, 24 September 2015

BRIDGET MARSDEN & LEIF OTTOSSON

CD Review

Mountain Meeting

If you are going to open your album with a track which is more than eight minutes long then it better be good, ear-catching, intriguing and spot on with the music, in fact pretty much like Newborough Sands/Through The Eyes of A Satellite from Anglo/Swedish duo Bridget Marsden and Leif Ottoson.

Bridget Marsden
It evokes a mixture of essences such as Yiddish, gypsy and Hungarian sounding music and spills over almost into what could easily be pigeonholed as classical folk. Marsden's precise fiddle playing is lush, disciplined and yet at the same time fills the air with sound almost randomly.
Ottoson has the distinct and sophisticated European style on the accordion which can whisk you away to the streets of almost every picturesque city on the continent.
His music dances with that of Marsden in a way which sets the imagination free.
This skill of the duo to entwine their music is intricate and seemingly intimate to where you almost feel voyeuristic, or whatever the aural equivalent of it is.
Welcome Waltz is a perfect lesson in economy of scales, not a single note is wasted, not a rest missed not a single crotchet held for a split second too long. Their music is restful and evocative, playful and mature and Ottosson belongs in that class of people which includes Andy Cutting, Sharon Shannon, Sam Pirt and Jim Causley. The blend is so absolute it's sometimes difficult to know where the strings end and the bellows begin. Drinks Are On Me is straight out of the Prancing Pony at Bree or the Green Dragon in the Shire.
If you're a Tolkien fan you will see the Hobbits clashing flagons of ale amidst a haze of Old Toby as they dance around a fire under a starry sky.
Even Marsden adding a slight jazz lick into it can't shatter the illusion and Valter Kinbom's percussion only adds to the sense of occasion.
The title track has a haunting lilt to begin with, as though Marsden, who composed the piece, has called the spirits down from the Celtic highlands.
Almost imperceptibly Ottosson comes in underneath as if he is using his bellows to fan the music for it to slowly build. The precision with which these two play is awe inspiring. It seems they are using the instruments to paint the music on to the manuscript.
The unusually titled -30oC is an absolutely beautiful piece which creates the feeling of fingers of frost spreading slowly across the landscape which is almost onomatopoeic. They get a wonderful blend of sadness as the scene falls asleep under the spell of the cold and of lightness as the cold air and frost brings its own beauty.
Continuing the natural theme Ottosson opens Starry Night with the light, playful, almost lazy flick of his fingertips across the keys of his accordion.

Bridget Marsden and Leif Ottosson
Marsden's part has a slight growl to it as she draws her bow across the strings. With Shooting Star it could easily be an astral duet with Marsden and Ottosson making their instrument much more animated, as if mimicking the heavenly show of stars cutting paths across the dark night sky. Marsden pulls out a delightful polka in Polska After Johan Olofsson Munter.
The airy and light notes floating up like bubbles from her strings are kept from disappearing across the horizon by the sobering tones Ottersson squeezes out.
The polka is very understated, almost refined not quite the unrestrained gambol most would associate with the dance. Times of Ice could easily be the sister tune to -30 when the grip of winter is loosened by the spring sun.
Ottosson's accordion echoes the gradual thaw and Marsden's pizzicato mirrors the clean crisp water dripping as it gently melts and Leo Svensson gives voice to the stirring of nature on his cello. Another Marsden composition, The Devil's Purse Suite, comes in three parts The Gentry Below, Beams of Gold and The Road. Her playing has a touch of mountain smoke about it not quite European not quite Apalachian but intriguing nonetheless.
The debut album
The middle goes very much into the higher register at times, so high in fact only bats could get the full effect.
Marsden's playing is superb and once again dances beautifully between the notes emanating from Ottosson's accordion. With it's title you would expect it to be a much more brooding and sinister offering but the duo keep it light.
The final track, On The Moors, has a Grecian feel about it, with the music stepping backwards and forwards.
The duo play with your expectations any minute now you think this is going to speed up or just take off in a frenzy, whether it does or not, you will have to find out for yourself.
For a debut album this collection of music is impressive they have managed to elevate folk music into something akin to classical and give is a wonderful coating of sophistication while at the same time keep its roots firmly in the camp of music from and for the ordinary people.

Mountain Meeting is released on September 25.