Erlend Apneseth Trio: Åra

It might be tempting to characterize Hardanger fiddle player Erlend Apneseth as a younger Nils Økland, but doing so would not only sell Apneseth short, it would be inaccurate, too. For while both do draw upon Norwegian folk traditions, the sometimes experimental music Apneseth, baritone acoustic guitarist Stephan Meidell (Cakewalk), and percussionist Øyvind Hegg-Lunde (Building Instrument) have created on Åra also extends into other realms, such that one setting might sound as if it was recorded in Morocco whereas another might call to mind baroque playing from centuries past.

Åra is a refinement of the sound the trio presented on its well-received debut, but it also parts company with it in a significant way: in contrast to the pronounced improv feel of Der Andre Rommet, Åra feels more structured, the three having convened before entering the studio to work through the material and bring it into focus. That said, the ten pieces aren't through-composed by any stretch of the imagination; it's telling that in place of the customary composing credit, Apneseth is credited with ‘melody' on five tracks and Meidell one, the detail suggesting that a given track's theme functioned as a directional blueprint for the trio to follow during the recording process. It's also worth noting that Meidell's credited with live sampling and electronics on the release, and it's his interventions (clearly audible during “Sakura,” for example) that at times give the music its experimental edge.

In the opening “Utferd,” the trio's disparate sound elements gradually coalesce into a clear shape, one as indebted to Norwegian folk as Indian and Arabic forms. As the rustic, keening wail of the Hardanger fiddle wraps itself around the hypnotic ostinato patterns of Meidell's guitar and the swaying rhythms of Hegg-Lunde's hand percussion, one struggles to decide whether one has been transported to a smoke-filled opium den or the sunblinding plains of an endless desert, but ultimately it doesn't matter; what does is the explorative terrain etched by the three in little more than five minutes. Fittingly titled, “Tundra” takes us even deeper into Arabian territory, the string plucks with which it begins suggestive of an oud more than anything else, whereas a subtle hint of Delta blues seeps into “Øyster”; with percussion downplayed, “Stryk,” on the other hand, could pass for a less aggressive out-take from an early drone minimalism session. Two surprising moves merit mention, the incorporation of a recording of an anonymous musician playing the musical saw within “Saga” (actual sawing is heard alongside the saw's warble), and the addition of poet Erlend O. Nødtvedt to “Lysne,” during which he reads his own lines against the trio's accompaniment.

However far afield the three travel, there are still moments where the Norwegian folk tradition feels close at hand, never more affectingly than when Apneseth's playing is featured during the opening minutes of “Undergrunn” and in the melancholy outro “Klokkespel.” Regardless of the style in play, the three demonstrate a deep connection and intimacy in their playing, and the impression established is of musicians intently listening to one another in real-time as they collectively coax their material into being.

January 2018