Jonas Simonson,
Crane Dance
(Nordic Tradition, 2007)

Spare and evocative, Swedish flautist Jonas Simonson's Crane Dance is the perfect antidote to the sort of blandly overproduced "ethnic" music that tends to make it to the mainstream. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with, say, Celtic Woman, but this is the real thing: folk music, no bells and whistles, just solid musicianship and an audible timelessness.

The 17 instrumental tracks on Crane Dance include traditional Swedish waltzes, marches and polonaises, and Simonson's own crane-themed compositions. It is with one of these, the flute solo "Crane Song I," that the CD opens. The hollow, delicate notes of Simonson's double willow flute have an organic and improvised feel, as if produced by the wind itself. These "crane songs" often act as interludes for the livelier pieces of traditional material, but they end up being the most haunting tracks on the CD. "Crane Halling," in particular, has the sound of some ancient ritual. Building up from a solo on the Swedish harjedalspipa flute, it turns hypnotically percussive with the gradual addition of talking drums, rattles and bells.

The traditional pieces, with origins in different parts of Sweden, are not quite as memorable, but they offer a good variety of moods and sounds. They range from the dirge-like "March from Seglora" to the playful, slightly off-kilter "Waltz from Skara." Accompanied by guitar, fiddle, viola and occasional percussion, Simonson plays a variety of woodwinds with supple, unpretentious grace. "Savare" offers a particularly lovely duet between flute and fiddle that, like many of the tracks, tempers liveliness with a faint, melancholy aftertaste. Simonson's arrangements are sparse yet subtle, and like everything about Crane Dance, unobtrusively tasteful.

This extends to the elegantly designed liner notes. Probably more aesthetic than useful, they provide some information on the instrumentation and origins of the pieces, but are only partially and whimsically translated into English. As an example, the double page centre spread features a photo of hundreds of cranes, a Basho haiku in Japanese on the left and its Swedish translation on the right. An English translation, probably for aesthetic reasons, is nowhere in sight. However, a little ingenuity, a rudimentary understanding of kanji and the indefatigable resource that is Google came to the rescue and produced this translation: "The crane's legs / have gotten shorter / in the spring rain."

It's a contemplative, slightly opaque image, and one that is perfectly suited for this recording. I know very little about Nordic music, but Crane Dance argues eloquently for its power and beauty.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Jennifer Mo

1 September 2007

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