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fRoots issue 196, 1999
Amigo AMCD 741 (1999)
Giga GCD-39 (1999)
ECM 1660 (1999)
Fiddling in Sweden is in a very healthy state, with what from the outside can seem a seething sea of fiddlers from which it’s hard to pick out individuals. There are also plenty of CDs, often featuring a single fiddler playing entirely solo, which are extremely valuable for deeper study of an individual’s art or a regional style, and often for stories of the people behind the tunes, but few would consider the easiest point of entry. However, some of the greatest traditional players also play in bands, putting the tunes into an arranged context probably more accessible to a wider audience.
As luck would have it, two such, Ola Bäckström and Carina Normansson, both top-line players, are in a band that gets to Britain more often than most, because the other two members are the duo of subtle, melodic accordionist Karen Tweed and peerlessly whizzo, self-effacingly droll guitarist Ian Carr.
From the first, Swåp proved to be even more than the sum of its parts, full of complementing skills and lively ideas, and this second album, [sic], (sic), is several spins down the dancefloor from its predecessor. Devious ingenuity isn’t restricted to the playing; the majority of the tunes here are smart new compositions, contributed by all four drawing on Swedish and Irish music and the evolving music of a new found land. For example, pre-Swåp, Carr’s experience of playing Swedish music was virtually nil, and yet here he is turning in compositions like Bigger House (a paean of dissatisfaction with the relative capacity of his current accommodation); it twists like a wind-tossed leaf and is perfectly suited, while technically challenging to, Swedish fiddle style.
Swåp has up to now been essentially an instrumental band, but Carina’s also a fine singer, as she shows in the traditional ballads Hertig Henrik and Lill Mats and in her tralling on Robert.
To get a sense of an individual solo fiddle style, Mats Berglund’s second album for Giga, the label with the maroon and cream packaging that releases many of the aforementioned solo fiddle albums, would make one of several good entry points. He’s from Värmland near the border with Norway, and has spent years tracking down and working with a style of music that he felt existed and had nearly died out, which has a particularly asymmetrical approach to polska’s triple-time. His playing is accessibly definite, melodic and rich-toned, and this album features not only solos but variety-giving duets with three other fiddlers, Göran Håkansson, Fredrik Lundberg and Anders Nordlöf.
Mats Edén is a well-known innovative, influential player and composer in Swedish roots music, a member of Groupa, the Nordan project and more. He has long been fascinated by the role of drones in Nordic music. Much of Milvus features him playing solo on drone-fiddle, fiddle or viola, or duetting with Groupa flautist Jonas Simonsson, in pieces developing from traditional Swedish and Norwegian themes and his own compositions, in some of which he pays respect to fiddlers who have influenced him, such as Sweden’s Anders Rosén, Norway’s Torleiv Bjørgum and Bombay’s K.Shivakumar.
For the final 21-minute three-part section his role is as composer rather than player. The Norwegian Cikada String Quartet plays his String Quartet No.1, which contrasts and progressively fuses the cello’s deep sonorousness with silvery, whispery or warm tones drawn from three straining, edgy violins... OK, you can tell I’m no classical reviewer, but it’s interesting and productive to have traditional music and styles, some of the most old-rooted and robust at that, set alongside the structures of the western classical tradition, and on the non-genre-specific, highly regarded label ECM.
© 1999 Andrew Cronshaw
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