Why was I taken by surprise by Himmerland’s The Spider in the Fiddle? Firstly, Denmark is full of good music, and Danish groups are constantly producing lovely music. Secondly, I have twice before discovered new favourite groups with Ditte Fromseier in. First there was Flax in Bloom, a group that never recorded but in concert turned out smooth Irish music, then Habbadam, a trio playing traditional music from Fromseier’s native Danish island of Bornholm. Habbadam’s albums still get played in my stereo.
Still, the opening of Himmerland’s first album smacked me right between the eyes, one of the strongest album openings I have heard from a new group, evoking the same reaction in me as the openings of the debut albums by King Crimson and Moving Hearts.
“Sacred Fire” by bass player Andrzej Krejnuik is the first track. Just a rhythm guitar at first, but the whole band joins in, with Fromseier’s violin and Eskil Romme’s soprano saxophone playing fast melodious runs over a firm backing by Morten Alfred Höirup’s guitar, Krejniuk’s bass and Ayi Solomon’s percussion. A fine mixture of strange time signatures, interesting bass playing, hummable tune segments and even a short percussion solo. Four minutes and 48 seconds of pure delight.
Then the mood turns to subdued half-funky bass with discreet claves and Fromseier singing “Kaereste min Moder” about a girl telling her mother she wants a husband. The rest of the band creeps in behind her on this traditional Danish song, interrupted twice by a nice melodic tune with an oriental touch, written by Höirup.
And so it carries on with each new track being different from the one before, but still you feel it is part of a greater whole. Traditional sounding tunes, jazz, songs, waltzes, whatever they play you still hear that this is Himmerland.
The musicianship throughout is impeccable. The first thing you will notice is the interplay between Fromseier and Romme and how well a violin and a soprano saxophone travel together. Then after a few listenings you will notice Krejniuk’s bass playing, often providing delicate runs in the background, and of course even getting to play a few solos. I am no fan of bass solos, but I like his contributions to the album. Solomon’s percussion work suits the group perfectly and Höirup has the good sense to realize his main task is to provide the foundation for the others to shine, an important role misused by so many guitarists, falsely thinking it is their show.
But a real surprise is the singing. Out of twelve tracks, four are songs. Höirup sings “De Hvide Sejl” (The White Sails), another traditional song. Fromseier sings the rest. Apart from the mentioned “NÂr Solen saenker sine strÂler” (When the Sun Lowers its Rays), a pre-WW2-song as one of my favourites. A song about still loving the man who has left you. Soft and gentle and gripping.
Well, I could rave about each track on this album. It has been running constantly in the car stereo for more than a week and each time I find something new. My only question is: How will they be able to follow this without disappointing us? Very highly recommended.
[Editor’s note: You can find Himmerland’s Web site here.]
(Tutle Records, 2014)