Hans P. Kjorstad og Rasmus Kjorstad: Pusinshi Ulla

There are gradations within any genre, extending all the way from the raw and the coarse to the smooth and the sanitized, and Norwegian folk music is no exception. Positioning itself at the rustic end of the spectrum are the Kjorstad brothers, young fiddle players from the village of Fron in Gudbrandsdalen (Gudbrand Valley) who studied at The Norwegian State Academy of Music. Like any locale, Fron has undergone modernization, yet some residents live according to long-standing traditions, and it's their stories and world that inspired the Kjorstads to record the forty-two-minute Pusinshi Ulla.

The two strip bare the album's eleven tunes, infusing their basic shapes with urgency and energy, and in a few cases add vocals that are as raw and natural as the fiddle music itself. Intent on retaining the integrity of Norwegian folk music, the Kjorstads favour unpolished tonalities in place of the refined string sound associated with the classical European music tradition. The songs themselves aren't recent compositions by the brothers but rather tunes played by a number of early Norwegian musicians, such as Heidal fiddlers Hans Slettmo (1825-1895) and Christian Reiremo (1804-1883), and preserved by figures such as Kristian P. Åsmundstad and Dr. Ole Mørk Sandvik.

“Guri” sees one brother's rapid plucks paired with the bowed, vocal-like cry of the other, the music earthy and rhythmically driven. A droning quality emerges within the music that lends the material a mournful undercurrent, while a sweeter dance style emerges in “Springleik Etter Iver Storodden / Svasshøle II.” Reinforcing the chug of the fiddle melodies in “Halling Etter Redvald Fjellhammer,” its title a reference to Redvald Fjellhammer (1915–1990) from Øverbygda in SørFron (the southern part of Fron), is the rhythmic twang of what sounds like a Jaw's harp. With the brothers chanting the words, “Så Lokka E Over Den Myra” drones with a powerful rustic insistence, the combination of vocals and strings almost hypnotic. As old as the tunes are, one imagines they could be clothed in more modern garb without much difficulty. “Filefjelleiken,” for example, grinds with a rhythmic purpose that suggests it could be translated into electronic form or even, strange as it might sound, some variation of heavy metal.

At times suffused with longing, the tunes' melodies tug at the heartstrings in a few places, whereas in others a light-hearted, jovial tone dominates. It's almost impossible to imagine Pusinshi Ulla being presented in a formal conservatory hall; it's much easier to visualize the Kjorstads serenading enraptured town residents at an old village pub. No matter how long ago it was written, a setting as rich in melody as “Melovitt” is as pleasurable to listen to today as it would have been 150 years ago.

December 2016