Deliverance, the second release by The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, brims with life, energy, a lot of joy and a little bit of sorrow, all poured out in the delightful strains of fiddle music from three different but related traditions.
The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc is Olav Luksengård Mjelva of Norway, Anders Hall of Sweden and Kevin Henderson of the Shetland Islands. They all play on their own and with other ensembles, but they’ve been playing as a trio since 2009 and released their first self-titled CD in 2011. (I was fortunate enough to see Mjelva and Hall play together as accompaniment to a dance program at the Celtic Colours International Festival on Cape Breton Island in 2013.)
Deliverance is a mix of traditional tunes and new compositions in a traditional vein, most of them by Mjelva. The title tune, which ends the first half of the program, is a perfect example of the latter, a lovely lilting waltz that perfectly captures the sort of quietly held joy that seems a common Scandinavian emotion. He composed it, the liner notes say, “whilst on tour in the beautiful north of Norway during the dark, long winter months. At the end of the tour, the long awaited sun reappeared in the mountain tops.” Something to dance about, indeed.
The disc’s final tune is also one by Mjelva, this one a little more dark and somber. It’s a slow march titled “Nødåret (The Year Of Sorrow),” and the notes say simply, “Some years are good and some are not. This was made during a not so great year.” It begins with Mjelva solo on his baritone violin (also called an octave violin), but of course after the first verse the others join in with their sweeter instruments and do their best to turn the dark tones a little lighter – and they succeed, in a way that leaves the proceedings solemn but not so dark.
Throughout the disc, the music made by these three journeymen who have studied at the feet of masters weaves together the three separate strands into a whole that sounds larger than its parts – almost orchestral at times. Part of the trick to that is the addition of that baritone violin and also the Norwegian hardanger, which has four additional sympathetic strings and is played mainly by Mjelva but also by Hall, who has studied the traditions of Norway as well as his native Sweden. Add in the colorful, gracenote-laden Scottish style of Henderson and it’s a full sound indeed.
Just check it out in the live version of the album’s opening track, Henderson’s tune “Talons Trip To Thompson Island,” with himself on lead after Hall sets the pace.
There’s so much to like here, all this lively dance music. Among the best is Mjelva’s “Hjaltaren,” his tribute to Henderson’s homeland – Hjaltland was the old Norse name for Shetland. It’s a halling, a vigorous Norwegian dance that involves acrobatic feats that include trying to kick a hat off a pole held above another dancer’s head. (I saw this demonstrated that night on Cape Breton Island, and it was something to behold!)
Another favorite is the traditional “Djävulspolskan (The Devil’s Polska)” from Sweden – you’ll swear there’s a harmonium hiding in the wings somewhere adding a drone. And for some real up-tempo fare there’s a set of shetland tunes “Da Scallowa Lasses / Lorna’s Reel,” with some knockout lead fiddling from Henderson and tight accompaniment from Mjelva and Hall. And I’d be remiss to not mention “Flinken,” another traditional polska that starts off very slow and solemn and grows faster to display some very rapid and intricate playing. There’s a fine video of a live performance of this tune, with the addition of American cellist Natalie Haas, here.
I can’t recommend this CD highly enough. The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc’s Deliverance is a brilliant recording. These three players display musicianship of the highest order on a program of excellent tunes that will be enjoyed by any fan of traditional music. There are links to the videos mentioned above and more information on their website.
And if that’s not enough, they’re playing a brief tour across parts of the U.S. in late September and early October 2016. You’ll find dates here.