Saturday 6 August 2011

Beginner's Guide to Scandinavia

Various Artists
Beginner’s Guide to Scandinavia

Nascente NSBOX079

This 3-CD budget collection really does make a very fair introduction to modern Scandinavian music – that’s Scandinavian in the inclusive sense, adding in Iceland, Finland, Greenland and the Faroe Isles. Each of the discs has a theme – Pop & Contemporary, Folk & Roots, and Jazz, Experimental & Atmospheres, but the borders between them are very fluid – Valrav could easily be in folk rather than pop, for instance, while Kimmo Phojonen might just as easily have fitted in Experimental. The pop disc is nowhere near as fluffy and vapid as it could have been, with Lars Demian sounding Serge Gainbourg weary on “Alkohol” and Cornelis Vresswijk channelling inspiration from Jacques Brel on “Samba For Pomperipossa.” There’s no Robyn, sadly, one of the best pop stars to come from the region, but there is the sweet acoustic indie sensibility of Pascal Pinon, the folktronica of Valravn and Pohjone’s barely contained strangeness.

The folk disc does offerme moderately well-known names – Värttinä, Maria Kalaniemi, Annbjørg Lien and a couple of others, But it does also shine a spotlight on others, such as Eivor, who deserve more fame for their adventurous work, as well as Morild, Hedningarna and BOOT. It goes some way to showing the range of Nordic folk music being produced, and the fact that roots music has enjoyed a real resurgence is some of the countries thanks to university degree programmes (Finland and Denmark), while other countries, like Norway and Iceland, are still lagging behind in delving into their folk traditions, at least on a more global stage.

But its disc three that holds the greatest adventures, the music that tends to defy easy definition. From Benny Anderssons Orkester (yes, the former ABBA man) to the joiking of Wimme and Mari Boine, it’s a lesson in possibilities. Nordic jazz has long show a different, more abstract, sensibility than its American counterpart, and you can hear that in the piece by Karl Seglem, where sax mixes in new, ornate ways with folk music (Gjermud Larsen draws from folk in similar ways, too), or the excerpt from the beautiful, breathless “Judas Bolero” from Lars Danielsson or the voice and ice instruments used by Terje Isungset. It’s perhaps apt to end with a pair of Samí tracks, a people whose nomadic ways have taken them across many of the Nordic countries. Both Mari Boine and Wimme have been relentlessly experimental, and the tracks here highlight that, as well as the innate beauty of the joik. Put all together, it’s a fascinating primer on Nordic music, one that stays clear of the main highways and focuses on the smaller, less-driven roads – but the scenery there is always more interesting.

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