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Rätt & Slätt
Playground, Sweden (

cd cover The great fun of this recording by Swedish instrumental quintet Avadå almost masks the formidable mastery and discipline entailed in rendering such a varied project as enjoyable to the listener as to the performers. Avadå's concoctions never stray so far from their traditional Scandinavian roots as to obscure them, yet the experimentation, especially in rhythm, is often breathtaking. Melodies are mostly pursued by Gisen Malmquist's clarinets and soprano sax and Petra Kvist's violin, both tight, expressive, and so mutually sensitive as to seem twin children of different mothers. Johan Hallström's drums and Staffan Kåge's bass offer a rhythm section that refuses to vanish into the background, and Jens Ulvsand's guitar and bouzouki might very well hold this innovative ensemble together.

"Fredlös" is a challenging lead-off track; shock-started bass, drums, violin, and bouzouki introduce a signature Scandinavian melody; a long, complex figure extends across a stuttering beat nearly impossible to follow consciously, yet somehow intuitively compelling, in time with blood and breath, the melody variously elaborated by violin and clarinet before breaking into a choppy, complementary jam accompanied by vocal skat. "Slängpolskor" begins as a swinging polyrhythmic march, happy melody carried in harmony on violin and clarinet leading smoothly into a two-step and a new melody, a third melody finally capping this wild dance medley. Avadå can be contemplative, too, as on "Rickards," gentle and almost classically narrative, the tone set by guitar, the melody pursued by violin and clarinet.

Ulvsand's guitar once again sets the tone on "Svinet," with an aggressively jazzy swing against which clarinet and violin weave a lilting, lively melody. Sly drum tappings and percussive bass conspire with the guitar to transform the tune into a sort of Nordic reggae, a surprising and masterly turn. "Hallingar" is another pleasantly perplexing performance, a dramatic Klezmer-like introductory fancy on low clarinet leading into a stiff Scandinavian tune on fiddle and bouzouki, soon accelerated into syncopation by jazzy strummed bouzouki, and boasting a central clarinet improvisation that would not have been out of place in 1968 at the Fillmore (where it would naturally have been two hours long). "Lindängen" is a calmly swinging waltz, slack drums heavy on the third beat, picking up drive and a peculiarly refreshing melody on violin and soprano sax, rhythmic integrity continually under siege, chaos triumphantly taunted. And "Grottan" is almost good ol' rock-n-roll, but with a wry, fluttery melody foreign to the genre; and isn't that just a touch of wah-wah guitar in the background?

Rätt & Slätt contains nearly an hour of such entertaining and innovative contemporary traditional Swedish music, and gets more engaging with each listening. - Jim Foley

CD available at cdRoots

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