These are good times for Nordic folk music. Many talented and creative musicians are taking their traditional music in every direction imaginable. Fusions with rock, jazz, dance music and the traditional music of other countries are everywhere. Even with all of this cross-pollination, however, there are still albums that concentrate on presenting traditional Nordic music without shining it up with fancy new sounds. They merely offer roots music played with heart and verve. Harv's Must is such an album.
Harv is Magnus Stinnerbom and Daniel Sanden-Warg. The duo plays an assortment of fiddles, with willow flutes and jew's harp as well. Must is their second album. All but three of the album's 15 tracks are traditional pieces; the others were composed by Magnus. Magnus and Daniel both hail from the province of Varmland, which is in southern Sweden on the Norwegian border.
Magnus' father is Leif Stinnerbom, who may be familiar to some as a member of the great Swedish folk group Groupa in its early years. In fact, several of the tunes that appear on Must can also be found on early Groupa albums. Although Magnus and Daniel are joined by Hedningarna's Bjorn Tollin (percussion) and Vasen's Roger Tallroth (guitar) on several pieces, they are more than capable of carrying the show on their own.
Must gets off to an inviting start with the cheery "A-kassa," a piece Magnus composed in celebration of getting his unemployment money. From there, it covers a whole range of moods from wistful ("Kvartetten") to funereal ("Brudmarsch") to almost funky ("Baten"). The tunes are mostly Swedish, with a few Norwegian ones sprinkled in. Most of these folk melodies were originally played for dances, so Must delivers a full complement of polskas, along with a reinlender, a waltz and a couple of polses. Many of the traditional tunes have been given new names, but the liner notes identify each type of tune and name the musician in whose manner the melody is played. The notes also tell from whom Harv learned the tune and sometimes tell the story behind it. The stories are often funny; a pols renamed "Blaa!" is described as "bad music for bad people." Fiddlers in particular will wish that the liner notes went into more detail about which fiddles appear on which tracks; everything from the "regular" fiddle to the moraharpa (the ancestor of today's nyckelharpa) shows up. In any case, the variety of sounds and melodies ensures that there is something here for everyone, and that the album never becomes boring.
Some of the music on this album may take a little getting used to for people who are unfamiliar with Nordic folk music. What may seem to be a simple, sweet melody will often take some strange twists and turns into minor-key territory before the end of the piece. "Reinlender," for example, begins with a rolling rhythm that brings to mind a brisk walk down a sunny road. Without warning, it shimmies sideways into a minor-key figure and continues down that road, having an almost Balkan feel at times. But later that rolling march returns. If listeners aren't careful, they may wind up humming it; at least, the liner notes warn that it may be contagious! The unusual combinations of harmonies and dissonances are something that gives much Nordic traditional music its unique flavor, and the listener who finds them off-putting at first should persevere.
In short, Must is a fine group of varied tunes that is enhanced by superb playing. It is a must (sorry!) for any collection of Nordic or fiddle music.
[ by Jennifer Hanson ]