Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil,
(Tutl, 2007)

Even though it only has about 45,000 inhabitants, Denmark's Faroe Islands has its own record label and a thriving folk and jazz community. Kristian Blak may be the area's best-known musician.

In 2006 the group Yggdrasil, formed by Blak, celebrated its 25th anniversary. Yggdrasil is the all-encompassing World Tree in Norse mythology (and "askur" means ash tree in the Faroe language).

These two CDs are excerpts of live performances from 1982 to 2006. Blak wrote most of the music. The first is "Askur" from 2006, written by Blak for the group's anniversary. "Fan Fare" is stark folk with honking bark horns and wordless vocals by Kari Sverrisson. "Dragon of Destruction" is metal with heavy guitar and frenzied sax. "Dew Fall" is a bass solo just over a minute.

The other five parts on the CD are jazz suites with groups of seven to 10 players, led by three saxmen who rotate taking solos and Anders Hagberg on flute. Blak also takes a long, meditative solo on piano during "Adagio Faroese I-Adagio Faroese II/Tango."

"Ravnating" is a work about ravens from 1982, with six musicians. It is a quiet work that features Ernst Dalsgard on flute and John Tchicai on bass clarinet in the third section. The three pieces are from an Yggdrasil album that features the entire piece. There are four pieces from "Concerto Grotto" from 1984, with basically the same group. It is a classically oriented work, with jazz solos by Dalsgard, Tchicai on saxophone, and Anders Jormin on acoustic bass.

The second CD begins with excerpts from the opera "Arnhild Og Eystein." There is an instrumental overture of about three minutes and two tracks that have less than eight minutes of singing. They just hint at how interesting this history of the Faroe Islands must be.

"Ajukutooq" and "Roova Ut A Krabbasker" are based on traditional folk songs. The first is beautifully serene, while the latter strangely switches between slow parts and fast hard rock. "Arrival" is a 10-minute piece of new age-flavored jazz, with soaring vocals by Eivor Palsdottir.

Next are three pieces from the "Den Yderste" suite, impressionistic music accompanying the poetry of Faroese author William Heinsen. Unfortunately, there are no translations of the poems in the CD booklet. There are three slow pieces with classical and jazz elements based around Palsdottir's impressive vocal range, taken from a tour after Yggdrasil recorded a self-titled CD with her in 2002. The last piece is the lighthearted "Calypso Boswill."

The CD booklet is quite comprehensive, with background on the group and descriptions of each of the tracks listing all the musicians. It also has translations for some of the vocals.

With 29 pieces on the two CDs, this retrospective is just a sampler. Most of the tracks are three or four minutes long. It just begins to show what these musicians can do. But it is a very interesting take on how jazz, classical and folk music can be reinterpreted by players from another part of the world. It will surely make you wish to hear more from the Faroe Islands.

review by
Dave Howell

14 July 2007

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