Sunday, 3 April 2016

THE NORDIC FIDDLERS BLOC

CD Review

Deliverance

Right from the opening notes on this second album from the trio Nordic Fiddlers Bloc you get a sense of their energy and passion for their music. The fiddle playing comes at you like a burst of machine gun fire from a strafing fighter plane.

The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, Anders
Hall, Olav LuksengÄrd Mjelva
and Kevin Henderson
Talons Trip to Thompson Island was composed by Scot Kevin Henderson and named by a woman who won a competition following a week at Boston Harbor Fiddle School.
At first is has the power you associate with Seth Lakeman but then opens out into a fantastic display of strings involving the composer and fellow band members Norwegian Olav Luksengard Mjelva and Anders Hall from Sweden.
The way they weave the rapid sound of the fiddles in with the slower pace of the viola is a real treat and sets their stall out as trio who can create and execute complex sets of music while keeping earthed in the folk tradition.
Their arrangement of Flinken, a traditional tune, is a more sombre affair and for the first time you get a feel for the depth of sound they create between them. The music of the strings stabs through the air and moves along to what is almost a fusion with a classical style which is reminiscent of Vivaldi's winter from The Four Seasons and, at nearly six minutes, is the longest piece on the album.
This finally gives way to Hjaltaren which, of course, as everyone knows is the old Norse name for the Shetlands. This composition from Mjelva is inspired by the Vikings and does have a beefy militaristic section followed by a much lighter dance tune where the strings seem to imitate the bagpipes. Again it carries the same energy and they seem to be pushing their strings to the limit, extracting every last sound out of the playing.
The Hen Hunt has a slightly jaunty feel considering it's about the loss of 250,000 chickens in a tremendous storm. It has a mountain style feel to the playing which is languorous, thoughtful but never heavy or stodgy.
A gentle pizzicato style brings in the title track which was written by Mjelva while touring his native country. This again is another thoughtful piece which carries you along at a steady pace using the players' strings to create distinctive strands which weave in and out of each other.
The Devil's Polska (DJavulspolskan) starts as you would imagine with the toetapping beat of a dance, the strong bowing giving the tune a strength where you are almost compelled to move to the beat. Interestingly towards the end it does take on a gentler feel, the considered sawing of the bow across the strings giving it a really light touch.
It's inevitable with folk music that sooner or later the tunes will include, death, betrayal, sex and or drinking. Well, In the Lounge is the band's tribute to one of their favourite pubs in Lerwick. It's another which fuses a traditional style with a more classical bent and considering the tune is about an ale house the band never short changes the listener.
The new album Deliverance
Hall's Little Waltz is another of their arrangements which is light, pleasant and conjures up images of couples observing the niceties of the dance.
This tune leans more towards the classical side of their playing for the first half but then seems to take a more relaxed approach where the downbeats are more definite and, as on all their tracks, the combination of the fiddles, including the octave and Hardanger, and viola are put together superbly and with inspiring precision.
They go for straight-between-the-eyes traditional with Lorna's Reel which has that combination of hoedown, highland and Celtic DNA. It is executed with a lively passion and thorough respect for the traditional music.  If this doesn't get your feet tapping then you should check they are still attached to your legs.
The album closes with Year of Sorrow which doesn't really live up to its title, because although it is a thoughtful and crafted piece of music it still has a lightness about it.  The musicians create a real wash of sound where parts of it have a definite throaty quality which the listener can really get their teeth into.
This album may not ring a bell with all folkies and may be a little classical sounding for some but what can never be questioned are the quality, strength and skill of the playing from Hall, Mjelva and Henderson.

Deliverance is out now on NFB Records and is available from the band's website and through Higland and Proper Distribution.

You can see them live at Kingskerswell Parish Church, Newton Abbot on April 26; Heath Street Baptist Church, London on April 27; Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham on April 28; Denholm Church, Denholm, Scottish Borders on April 29 and Kilbarchan Arts Centre, Scotland on April 30.