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Written in fRoots issue 360, June 2013


Own label, no number

When, six years ago, I first met Maarja Nuut, a then 21-year-old violinist already with considerable achievement as a classical soloist, who was soon to set off on what turned out to be an alarming trip on her own to learn from an Indian violinist, and was studying traditional Estonian village music in Viljandi, her quiet, unshowy command as a player and improviser marked her out as special. As I wrote in reviewing Viljandi festival 2007 for fRoots 295/296, her singing and playing of an Estonian regilaul with Chilean Nano Stern and Finn Antti Järvelä was for me a defining moment of the event.
     Since then, deeply immersed in the old ways of playing and carrying them forward she has indeed been creating her own path. While very well able to play with and adapt to musicians and styles from across the world, including as a leader at Ethno camps and a member of the Ethno In Transit touring group, and with other Estonian musicians in the trio Knihv, the music she makes solo is boldly, quietly, determinedly individual.
     Soolo’s opening, Soend, consists of just violin bowed and looped continuously without changing pitch, the movement coming from the shifting interplay of the strings’ high harmonics, blending gradually with wordless voice and a wolf howl. The following two tracks, Torupilliviis and Sabatants, are Estonian-bagpipe (torupill) derived hypnotic patterns over drones, with again her voice making a second instrument. Then a song, accompanied by plucked fiddle patterns, about a bride-to-be who thought she was unwanted and “hid herself where the wild roses grow”.
    It flows on, time-suspended, a reverie; grainy violin, wordless vocalising, speaking, whispering, rustlings, traditional dance tunes played with deep-driven bow, songs of lovers and separation. Maarja has been absorbing the spirit of village tunes and songs and of the people who’ve played and sung them, finding material and approaching it in ways unlike anyone else in Estonia.
     With just her fiddle and voice, subtly self-looped (with just a touch of guest bowed double bass underpinning the harmonising vocal wave-motion of the final track, Veere, Veere Päevakene - Roll, Roll Along, Oh Day), Soolo might be described as ‘minimalist’, but there’s a warmth and completeness to it, a feeling of being sung and played to in a quiet wooden house among the wide skies, marshes, silver-birch and dark pine forests of the Estonian countryside, and, as on a walk in a favourite special place, each time round brings a new perception.


© 2013 Andrew Cronshaw

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