Andrew Cronshaw
On The Shoulders of the Great Bear
Cloud Valley Music (

British zither player and composer/interpreter Cronshaw is one of those artists who has managed to create the illusion of being prolific while in fact producing scarce but welcome recordings. In the years since his last recording he has been spending a lot of time in the Nordic countries (particularly Finland) and much of the rest of Europe, meeting musicians, listening closely to the music, making a pest of himself at festivals and in libraries and museums around Europe, inhaling the instruments, the sounds and the melodies. On The Shoulders of the Great Bear he finally exhales, and the resulting breeze is always fresh, often invigorating and once or twice blustery. Starting with the core ensemble of Cronshaw on various zithers and harps (ancient, modern or home made), reeds, bellows, strings, whistles and percussion; Ian Blake on reeds and Bernard O'Neill on bass, Cronshaw creates a tableau of dense, often impenetrable layers of sound by adding dozens of unique regional sounds and a handful of excellent musicians to the mix. Cronshaw also does the unusual, offering solo spots on this album for some of his pieces, from an austere Gaelic ballad sung by Finnish-Swedish singer Jenny Wilhelms to somber "Weeping Polska" on solo kantele by Minna Raskinen, as well as his own whistle solos, one based on a Finnish hymn, the others Scots Gaelic dirges.

"Halullinen Seilu / Kain Mina Kaunista"
While the greater part of the album is devoted to quiet, introspective songs and tunes, Cronshaw stretches himself on a few tracks, particularly the energetic, gritty title piece that features the unique sub-verbal growlings of one of Finland's national treasures, vocalist Heikki Laitinen, colliding and swirling with the instruments like a Bosch landscape. He also offers some marches and dance tunes, including the lovely and lively "Halullinen Seilu" (The Lustful Soul) that features the previously mentioned layering; a foundation of gut-stringed kantele played by Hannu Saha is expanded with whistles, marovany (a Malagasy harp), shrieking reeds and wailing voices. Andrew Cronshaw may not be prolific, but each of these fourteen songs is worthy of the waiting. - CF

Audio: "Halullinen Seilu / Kain Mina Kaunista" ©1999 Cloud Valley Music

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