Nightmare Polka - American Café Orchestra
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American Café Orchestra
Nightmare Polka

About a year ago a friend gave me Ruthie Dornfeld’s record, Duets Abroad. Dornfeld, a fiddler from Seattle, crafted a solid, enjoyable, and sometimes wild record of duets with musicians from Finland, Denmark, France, and Hungary. My favorite tracks on this record were with the Danish guitarist Morten Alfred Høirup and the Finnish multi-instrumentalist Tapani Varis. I was very pleased to learn that Dornfeld, Høirup, and Varis also record together as the American Café Orchestra. Their new CD, Nightmare Polka, is a delight, and is full of tasty musical surprises.

Dances populate much of this record; waltzes, polskas, and even a hoedown appear. All of these were written by members of the trio, and even though they are new compositions they hold a sense of the old dances that come from Nordic and American traditions. Høirup’s “Blindfold Trippevals” is a standout, complete with wordless vocals from Høirup himself.

There are also a group of what might be best described as tone poems. “Rain” by Høirup and Dornfeld is the best of these. Staccato fingerpicked guitar and pizzicato violin are backed by jaw harp, painting a vivid aural picture of rain falling and splashing.

And then, as on Duets Abroad, there is the wild stuff which is well exemplified by the title track from Varis. Styles moves from slow and erie to quick and jagged. About the time one section starts to feel comfortable, the mood shifts again, going through five changes in just over four minutes. It could be thought of as a visit to haunted mansion. Some sawing on the bass and fiddle resembles doors creaking. The guitar makes sounds that remind me of bats flying. And the ending sounds like a scurrying away that ends far too early for the scurrier.

Nightmare Polka is chock full of well-crafted original music performed by a of trio musicians who work together very well to cover a wide musical range. Highly recommended. - Greg Harness

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