It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Finnish band Frigg, fresh from releasing their self-titled debut album, made an impression at the Nordic Roots Festival in Minneapolis for both their good playing and their youthful appearance. But that first album is now sixteen years old, and 2017 marked the release of their eighth album, called Frost on Fiddles. Original members Alina and Esko Järvelä (fiddles), Tuomas Logrén (guitar), and Petri Prauda (cittern and mandolin) are joined by fiddlers Tommi Asplund and Tero Hyväluoma and new bassist Juho Kivivouri on the effort. Frigg continue to bring outside folk and rock influences and a playful sense of adventure into a sound that remains anchored in the fiddling traditions of the village of Kaustinen. They may now be seasoned veterans instead of newcomers, but Frigg can still make a fresh, fun recording.
The opening track has the lengthy, but descriptive, title of “Esko Järvelä’s Ode To The Ravintola Pelimanni.” Composed in honor of a popular restaurant in Kaustinen, this tune combines the characteristic hitch of a traditional schottis with a more contemporary groove. Frigg have always mixed the traditional with the contemporary while putting their own stamp on things, but this stands out as one of their best and most infectious efforts. In a similar vein, the next track is titled “Chris Stout’s Compliments To The Bon Accord Ale House”; it was composed by the Scottish fiddler (and friend of the band) in honor of a Glasgow pub. This tune starts with a frenetic but complex rhythm, before getting quiet in the middle and then loud again at the end. It mostly works, but the arrangement between the second and third parts got overly complicated. It featured each of the fiddlers playing the main theme, but starting at different times. This might have worked better with fewer fiddlers participating, but as it is it sounds a little too busy. The very pleasant “Yöjuoksuvalssi / Courting Waltz” follows, combining some intricate group fiddling harmonies with some nice interplay between Prauda’s mandolin and Logren’s guitar. Next comes a pensive set of polskas called “Kenkkuni & Pikkuni.” Clocking in at over seven minutes, it’s the longest track on the album.
The next track “Friggin’ Polska” is the most challenging tune on the album, but also the most rewarding. Composed by Prauda an an attempt to create “a rocking stadium style polska,” the tune begins with some electronically enhanced guitar strums. The intro sounds a bit jarring and out of place initially, but the fiddles quickly kick in and you realize it is still Frigg. Overall, this exhilarating tune ranks among Frigg’s very best efforts. On “False Legeynes,” Frigg attempt to channel the hot club jazz fiddling of Stephane Grapelli. The rapid tempo and tight syncopation make the style challenging for a group of fiddlers to play together, but the band successfully pull it off. The relatively quiet “Nopeggios Waltz” features a steady background of plucked strings, building up steadily without quite simmering over. “Taivalkoski” is similarly laid back, but the guitar and mandolin figure more prominently and the rhythm is subtly complex. The straightforward schottis “Kesät Kerkkolassa / Summers In Kerkkola” is the most purely traditional recording on the album; even if you don’t know the specific dance, the tune’s lively bounce will have you moving around the room.
Next Frigg get Celtic with a jig titled “Tasajalka-Salminen” segueing into a reel called “Vonkaus.” Dedicated to Anssi Salminen, “Tasajalka-Salminen” is smooth, pleasant, and easy-going. By contrast, “Vonkaus” starts out energetic and upbeat. As was the case on “Chris Stout’s Compliments To The Bon Accord Ale House,” the band quiets down in the middle before picking things back up. The album closes with a slow, pensive tune in 5/8 called “Deep Water.” Despite the unusual rhythm, or perhaps because of it, the tune flows smoothly and organically and makes for a fitting send-off.
Frigg have spent nearly two decades developing their style, and outside of the gimmicky intro on “Friggin’ Polska,” they don’t really stray from it on Frost on Fiddles. As was the case with the Swedish band Väsen on their most recent album Brewed, Frigg give their audience exactly what they’ve come to expect, and some people might see that as a bit of a mixed blessing. But just like with Väsen, a big part of what their audience has come to expect is a high standard of quality. In that regard, Frost on Fiddles certainly does not disappoint.