Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil,
The Four Towers &
Heygar og Dreygar

(Tutl, 1983-85; 1997)

This CD is a re-release of the music for two different projects from the 1980s. The Four Towers is the soundtrack to a dance piece performed by the Icelandic National Ballet. It is based on a poem by William Heinesen called "Barnetegning" ("Child's Drawing"), which describes four different towers, one in each cardinal direction. Heygar og Dreygar is a suite inspired by Faroese folklore. Both were composed and arranged by Kristian Blak, who plays piano and double ocarina.

The poem "Barnetegning" describes the four towers; the respective sections of The Four Towers take images mentioned in these descriptions and supply musical interpretations of them. Even with the conceptual underpinnings of folklore in Heygar og Dreygar, this music falls into the genres of progressive and experimental jazz. The Four Towers suffers (as do all such projects) from the fact that its original dance accompaniment is lost in a completely aural presentation. The CD can only represent one dimension of the original artistic experience. The liner notes include contextual information such as a translation of "Barnetegning" and information on the folkloric creatures being saluted in Heygar og Dreygar.

Both projects lean heavily on wind instruments, with flute and various saxophones taking lead roles. An unusual (for jazz) instrument is the crumhorn (played by Sharon Weiss) appearing in The Four Towers. Some pieces include samples of found sounds: "Bird Cliffs" has a taste of the caroling cacophony heard from northern colonies of seabirds while "Forest" and "Teeth" include the howls and yaps of wolves and dogs. In The Four Towers, sounds range from the ethereal to the grating, and there are sometimes jarring juxtapositions. The honking, barking sax and erratic knocking percussion of "Teeth" gives way to the straighforward jazz of "Vojavoja" -- what makes this more disconcerting is that both pieces refer to one tower. It would seem that each tower would have a more unified impression.

Heygar og Dreygar doesn't cover such a wide range as The Four Towers and therefore coheres better. "Marmennil" uses Ernst Dalgard's flute to evoke an energetic, pixie-ish creature, whether you have read the liner notes for context or not. The explanation for "Ibgyt" says simply, "Inhabited by preternatural creatures," and the mix of somewhat ambient music and random percussion made my scalp prickle as I sneaked a glance over my shoulder to see if any such creatures had snuck in while my back was turned. "Dvorgamal" has the air of a marching band, but it concerns dwarves, not soldiers. It is difficult to hear how the concluding selection "Flotoyggjar" evokes the floating islands that are its subject, but on the whole, Heygar og Dreygar is an enjoyable and sometimes eerie suite.

These two suites are best suited to those listeners who enjoy hearing the boundaries of jazz pushed back. Fans of more traditional music, however, will not find this CD to their taste.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 9 October 2004

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