Andrew Cronshaw - The Unbroken Surface of Snow
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Andrew Cronshaw
The Unbroken Surface of Snow
Cloud Valley Music (www.cloudvalley.com)

Andrew Cronshaw is a true pioneer of the world music/roots scene. Years ago, Cronshaw captivated listeners with his glistening zither playing on traditional English, Irish, and Scottish tunes (it’s worth revisiting Till The Beast’s Returning, or the recently reissued The Great Dark Water). There would be hints of Cronshaw’s wide-open ears, and an affinity for Finnish (especially On the Shoulders of the Great Bear from 2000) and other music of far northern climes. 2004’s Ochre brought Cronshaw back to the music of the British Isles, but infusing the tradition with guests from other musical traditions. And now, seven years later, comes the equally unhurried The Unbroken Surface of Snow.

Like the title of the album itself, the compositions hint at broad expanses of space, and in fact the music develops as if hanging over a frozen desert. On three tracks ("Käärme," "Fujaruk," and the live "Im Hogutz"), Cronshaw is accompanied by Tigran Aleksanyan on the duduk. The duduk’s low tones sweep and call over the empty space here, while Cronshaw adds zither, reed pipes, fujara (a Slovakian shepherd flute), kantele, and the Chinese ba-wu flute to the mix. Each track is an exercise in minimalism, and while composed (Cronshaw mentions in the liner notes that “scattered throughout…are traditional melodies, mostly English or Armenian, or fragments of them”) there is empathic improvisation between the musicians as well. The tracks between Cronshaw and Aleksanyan are instructive for not only what is said by each, but also by what is not said in this deep, unfolding music.

"The Unbroken Surface of Snow" is a journey in itself, derived from the Finnish national epic The Kalevala. Cronshaw and Aleksanyan are joined by Ian Blake (soprano sax) and Sanna Kurki-Suonio (vocals; Kurki-Suonio sang in the group Hedningarna). Kurki-Suonio brings us the runo-song of how Väinämöinen created the world; following tradition, she also fashions her own tune in the process. At nearly thirty-five minutes, the result is an ever-shifting piece of enacted, beautiful magic.

Whenever Cronshaw’s zither ("Mhàiri Mhin Mheall-Shùileach" is a solo piece) or kantele playing emerges, I’m overcome with feeling as if some long-lost memory of mine is shifting under a frozen crust of snow. Ultimately, The Unbroken Surface of Snow is a bold exercise in contemplation; and like snow itself, it falls silently and accumulates additional weight and resonance with repeated listening. - Lee Blackstone

Editor's note: Mr Cronshaw asked me to clarify some info in the review. "The runo-song isn't from Kalevala, it's one from the thousands of traditional runo-songs that make up the body of material from which Lönnrot compiled Kalevala. A similar creation of the earth runo-song, but not this particular version, forms the opening verses of the book."

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