Frode Haltli

Avant Folk
Hubro HUBRO 3604

Sigurd Hole Trio

Encounters

Elvesang 002

Two Norwegian bands concentrate on what one of them defines as avant-folk music, still using traditional instruments, but permeating traditional or ersatz-traditional air with tropes more closely associated with Free Music. Offbeat, but not foolproof, the realization appears to depend on the liveliness of the resulting sounds rather than the concept itself.

For example the tunes composed or adopted for Avant Folk by accordionist Frode Haltli, known for his work with Trygve Seim and Maja S.K.Ratkje – this CD’s his co-producer – blends timbres from modern instruments such as synthesizer, saxophone, trumpet, drums and guitar with unexpected ones from goat horn, harmonium, Hardanger fiddle and his own squeeze box. Spreading sonic contributions from the 10 players results in insinuating and insouciant tunes that mostly jump and jitter like scherzo dance music while adding polyrhythmic and polyphonic textures. In contrast, on Encounters, bassist Sigurd Hole, known for his contributions to the bands of Tord Gustavsen, Karl Seglem uses only the textures available from Håkon Aase’s violin and Jarle Vespestad’s drums, as well as his own bull fiddle to animate nine compositions, mostly written by him. With tonal centres mostly shifting to the foreboding, the pieces are sometime so low energy as to be dispirited.

Although some parts of Avant Folk sound a little too close to harmonica-bellows-led camp-fire singalongs with strummed guitars, fiddle frills and accordion pumps, its themes based on traditional songs that show what can be accomplished with a concept like this. Semi-martial percussion on the bottom, harmonium and accordion synthesis on top “Kingo” cleverly balances the folk elements, including wordless vocals, with swaying Rock guitar-like licks and burnished trumpet lines. This leads into a dance-like interface completed by processional keyboard chords and violin double stops, drum shuffles and a group finale. Simpler, yet more contemporary, “Gråtar’n” layers percussive clicks, clunks and clatters below slowly accelerating electronics’ sizzles and wide tremolo undulations from the accordion, with mercurial fiddle or violin tones adding a poignant counter line. But it’s up to accordion jollity and aviary peeps from the horns to save the tune from bleakness.

On the other CD, with Aase’s sorrowful fiddle sweeps usually in the lead, Encounters appears to be rife with bleak and dispirited textures. Livelier asides in the form of Turkish-styled double bass string slapping and shuffle drumming moves the tune chromatically, but it seems that harmonies are more viable than happiness here. Similarly while some compositions reach a descriptive level of pastoral beauty, the bea(s)t is missing to make them truly memorable. The lengthy “Pilgrimage”, has a mellow theme pumped out by Hole and some pseudo-tabla playing from Vespestad for instance, but the Roma-styled violin part cries and much as it capers. “Sakura” is an improvement as drummer’s djembe-resembling pops add ballast to the bassist’s thick plucks guiding the fiddler to more pointed thrusts. Even better, by its finale “No Clouds” reaches a satisfying speedy resolution due to a bouncy melody driven by mainstream drum pats and a walking bass line harmonized with violin shakes.

Although the idea of changing folk-traditional music into fusion may be anathema to some, similar operation have sometimes enhanced Blues, Jazz and so-called Classical Music. Right now, Haltli and company seem well on the way to achieve this elusive goal; but it will take future releases to confirm if the Hole trio may achieves similar results.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Avant: 1. Hug 2. Trio 3. Kingo 4. Gråtar’n 5. Neid

Personnel: Avant: Hildegunn Øiseth (trumpet, goat horn, vocals); Rolf-Erik Nystrøm (alto, baritone saxophones); Frode Haltli (accordion); Ståle Storløkken (harmonium, synthesizers); Hans P. Kjorstad (violin); Erlend Apneseth (Hardanger fiddle); Juhani Silvola (guitar, electronics); Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir (guitar, vocals); Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson (bass); Siv Øyunn Kjenstad (drums)

Track Listing: Encounters: 1. Red Sky 2. Azzahra 3. Sakura 4. Interlude 5. No Clouds 6. Dew of Tears 7. Pilgrimage 8. Old Branches 9, Road Song

Personnel: Encounters: Håkon Aase (violin); Sigurd Hole (bass) and Jarle Vespestad (drums)