Nils Økland: Bris
Rune Grammofon

Nils Økland's Bris ('breeze') might be the most extreme recording gracing this month's reviews section (though don't interpret 'extreme' to mean noise or breakcore). It's hardly electronic (Sigbjørn Apeland's harmonium is the closest thing to an electronic instrument) and its oft-baroque sound is rooted deeply in the traditions of folk music. Regardless, Bris is remarkable, with twelve meditative settings that not only capture the essence of Norway's folk music tradition but update it too. Of course, it's the ululating cry of Økland's hand-carved Hardanger fiddle (the central instrument in Norwegian folk music since the 17th century) that gives the music its timeless quality. The keening overtones of the instrument's rustic sawing are often heard alone (Bris also includes Økland's viola d'amore, violin, and viola playing) though the 47-minute album, his third overall and second for Rune Grammofon, features (though sparingly) Food's Mats Eilertsen on double bass and percussionists Per Oddvar Johansen and Håkon Stene.

While Økland's previous albums featured traditional pieces, Bris is almost entirely composed by him. As a result, while some of it retains an ancient feel (a stately ballad like “Stor,” for example, could just as easily have been composed hundreds of years ago as today), pieces like “Bris,” “Flyt,” and “Gjennom” find Økland and company pursuing freer experimental directions. While it's unified by its sonic palette, Bris offers no shortage of dynamic contrast; compare, for example, the heartbreaking string melodies of the mournful “Avminnast” to the rumbling drum storms and aggressive sawing in the thunderous “Gjennom.” To call Bris folk isn't inaccurate yet it's also a criminally delimiting label for music of such graceful and hypnotic breadth.

August 2005