Hal Parfitt-Murray & Nikolaj Busk

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Hal Parfitt-Murray & Nikolaj Busk
Music from the Edge of the World
Go' Danish Folk Music

"Tá," he explained, "is not a place, but an experience. Not a word, but a moment of recognition."

As Hal Parfitt-Murray and Nikolaj Busk tell it, while travelling in the winter of 2011 they were forced to land their plane on the only land in sight: a tiny island known by its inhabitants as “The Edge of the World.” Unknown and not marked on any maps, the island, they say, rich in folk history. With anthropologists' ears, archival spirit and wild imagination, Parfitt-Murray (of Scottish extraction, based in Denmark) and Busk (a multi-talented Danish pianist) set to the task of preserving as much of this heritage as they could with whatever means were available. The result is a sublimely crafted program dedicated to the unknown and the impossible.

The duo's Celtic and Scandinavian predilections may be clear, but it's their island's spirit that shines through. Consequently, most of the tunes on the program are local folklore, rounded out by some original compositions. The Edge of the World, we find in the welcoming “Fiol of glas” (Fiddle of Glass), is as much a fairytale as its nickname implies.

Fiol of glas

Like all of the melodies featured thereafter, each has its own functional or aesthetic (also ascetic) purpose. Structures range from simple - such as “Breakfast Tune,” played on a lyre-like instrument and recorded, the liner notes tell us, with “the last trickle of juice on Hal's iPhone” - to the mystical. In the latter vein we have “Music for Looking over the Edge.” This enchanting piece was inspired by monks of the Edge, who engage in a daily meditative practice that focuses on a small melodic sequence, repeated to gain deeper awareness of its meaning. The result is closer to Steve Reich than to folk music (then again, perhaps Reich's minimalism is closer to folk than we realize). Other musings on the Edge delight with their whimsy. “The Egg Man,” for example, is played during a ceremony for which the titular chosen scales the cliffs where dwell the táruru, or brink owls. Hence, the accompanying tune “The Flight of the Táruru,” inspired by darting maneuvers of the very same.

A good portion of the program is drawn from a wedding party. The listener is taken through the entire ceremony, from the “Competitive dance” (played as the groom challenges male members of the bride's family) and on through the mother's farewell of “Wa Habibi” (a tune that here resonates poignantly in guest vocalist Elena Setién) to the celebratory “Wedding Music” (which notably adds a toy piano into the mix). To these the duo adds music of Jean Sibelius and Donal Lunny for broader context and effect.

Wa habibi
Wedding suite part 1

As with many of their contemporaries, Parfitt-Murray and Busk show fortitude in their arranging skills, nowhere so apparent then in their version of “The Snows They Melt the Soonest.” The British folk song feels not out of place, reminding them as it does of the water-edged landscape that so moved them. This is accompanied by “Enkedans” (The Widower's Dance), a ballad of winter and thaw, of frozen hearts and resolutions. The album's reigning tour de force is “The Ant and the Grasshopper.” This fable from Aesop has become a staple of the island, where the contrasting fastidiousness and free spiritedness of its titular characters combine to form a complete picture of humanity. The nature of this story is, like the island itself, a thriving culture hidden from our view but not our imagination. - Tyran Grillo

The Ant and the Grasshopper

The CD is available from cdRoots

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