“I want it to feel like the past, the present and the future, all at the same time” Erlend Apneseth. Hardanger-fiddler, composer and bandleader Erlend Apneseth follows up the acclaimed 2019 Hubro release, ‘Salika, Molika’ – a game-changing folk-meets-experimental-sound project where Apneseth’s regular trio was augmented by the addition of star accordionist Frode Haltli – with the richly collaborative ‘Fragmentarium’.
Here, a kind of experimental Nordic supergroup made up of Stein Urheim, Anja Lauvdal, Hans Hulbækmo, Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson and Ida Løvli Hidle, plus Apneseth himself, adapts a series of the leader’s original compositions into often wild and spontaneous-sounding arrangements where improvisation remains absolutely key to the overall group feel. Recorded, mixed, mastered and co-produced once again by Jørgen Træen, who conveys a wonderfully transparent sense of immediacy and clarity to the sound, ‘Fragmentarium’ is a suitably live-sounding document of a very ‘live’ music-making process.
“This project was originally commissioned for the Kongsberg Jazz Festival in 2019”, says Erlend Apneseth. “As I was free to choose what I wanted to do, I knew I wanted to work with a new ensemble, as an experiment to make my music go in new directions. Some of the musicians I had worked with in other bands or on other occasions, some of them I met musically for the first time. Most importantly, they all have in common a very open-minded approach to music, and have inspired me with their work on previous occasions, so this was really a dream-team gathering for me.”
Guitarist Stein Urheim is a staple of the Hubo label with a string of solo and group recordings to his name; Anja Lauvdal (piano, synth, electronics), is well-known for her role in the trio Moskus and the large ensemble Skadedyr, plus several other projects; drummer and multi-instrumentalist Hans Hulbækmo, and bassist Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson, both play with Lauvdal in both Moskus and Skadedyr. All three studied on the Jazz Program at Trondheim Musikkonsevatorium. Accordionist Ida Løvli Hidle, who works internationally in classical chamber-music contexts as well as folk and jazz, is another Trondheim graduate, and also a member of Skadedyr. She studied with Frode Haltli at the Norwegian Academy of Music.
“I came to them with a set of tunes and ideas, but we all arranged it together in a very free and playful approach” Erlend Apneseth says of his relationship with the guest musicians. “The music is a mixture of themes and improvisations and I didn’t really have any particular aims for the music other than trying to integrate the different musical personalities as much as possible, basically by not trying to control it too much. As the original setting for the piece was Kongsberg, a place with a lot of folk music history, I once again spent some time in the archives trying to find recordings from this area that could set a kind of historical context for it all. With this approach, I am trying to add some further layers to the instrumental music. Ideally, I want it to feel old, present and future at the same time”.
As with ‘Salika, Molika’, there’s a sparing but very effective use of spoken word samples taken from the archival recordings at the Folkemusikksenteret i Buskerud (in Prestfoss, Norway), but what is most immediately striking about ‘Fragmentarium’ is how various the music is, and how powerful. On successive tracks, and even movements within the same track, we seem to move from ancient-sounding, eerie, folk-horror whispers to full-on pentatonic jam-band blues, while acoustic instruments with their own distinct historical footprint such as Apneseth’s Hardanger fiddle are recontextualised through Lauvdal’s space-music synth-washes and subtle, electronically-assisted atmospherics. Perhaps most impressively, the music appears to have a real, organic sense of developing life to it, partly due to the impassioned, wild-sounding ensemble themes played in unison, and partly through the breath-like, almost tidal ebb and flow of various sequences, epitomised by the bellows-driven expansion and contraction of Ida Løvli Hidle’s accordion.
Throughout Erlend Apneseth plays with great beauty, in a range of modes from traditional folk to freak-out jam. But the strength of ‘Fragmentarium’ is, as its name suggests, that the various components of the overall group, and the heterogeneous complexity of the instruments, the players and the influences they bring, add up to so much more than any disparate collection of virtuoso soloists could hope to offer. The ensemble really is the thing.