Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil,
Yggdrasil
(Tutl, 2002)

This unusual album brings together musicians to perform pieces that suggest different aspects of Yggdrasil, the "World Tree" of Norse mythology. Yggdrasil's roots are found in the realm of death and its branches reach the heavenly realm of the gods. Kristian Blak, songwriter and pianist, is the moving spirit behind this project. He is joined by the group Yggdrasil, which has helped him out on similar conceptual albums before.

The tracks allude to Yggdrasil's legend rather than spelling it out. The music ranges from traditional Faroese tunes to a Greenlandic kayak song to settings of two sonnets by William Shakespeare. Many of the texts refer to the impermanence of life. Then there are the improvisations, such as "Smyril," which uses a sample of a falcon's voice as a base for a jazz jam with wordless vocals, sax and the traditional touch of a birch-bark flute. Full lyrics are given for most songs; those not in English have a brief translation of the song's theme in the liner notes in addition to the non-English text.

Some tracks are like art songs: a case in point is "Ognad," which sets Eivor Palsdottir's voice against Blak's meandering piano. Anders Jormin's bass, which appears partway through, sounds as if it has wandered in from a jazz session. "A Vain and Doubtfull Good" and "Crabbed Age and Youth," the two Shakespeare settings, are in a similar vein. "Nattina Eftir Friggjanatt" is a traditional Faroese song sung by adults for children; Palsdottir chants the rhythmic lyric, which is filled with images that might have come from Old Norse poetry. "Led Er Din Sang" is based on a Faroese dancing ballad that tells the story of a Scottish mercenary who came to grief fighting Norwegian peasants for the Swedish king. The open jazz solos work well with the structure of the lyric on this track.

The experimental jazz settings for these tracks will not be appreciated by everybody. Palsdottir's high, sometimes breathy voice is very reminiscent of Sami singer Mari Boine (especially on "Oxberg"). Sometimes she has lyrics to sing, while on other tracks she sings without words. In addition to Blak, Palsdottir and Jormin, the ensemble is composed of Tore Brunborg (saxophones), Anders Hagberg (flutes) and Brandur Jacobsen (drums and percussion). The sound they produce is a long way from any traditional music, but then, an album with such a range of sources isn't looking to woo the purists anyway. This album is for those who like jazz as much as folk, and those who appreciate an original approach to music and myth.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 22 November 2003

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