Roots and Shoots: Himmerland & The Ale Möller Band take on the world
Ale Möller Band
The message behind Himmerland and the Ale Möller Band crosses many borders. In each is a flame of welcoming spirit: to be in their presence is to be at the hearth again after a long winter's journey. Himmerland in particular, in a program of New Roots Music from Denmark, serves up a steaming cup of that invitation and blows its surface cool before the first sip. Representing Denmark, Poland, and Ghana, this quintet of Ditte Fromseier (violin, vocals), Eskil Romme (saxophone, vocals), Morten Alfred Høirup (guitars, vocals), Andrzej Krejniuk (electric bass guitar, vocals), Ayi Solomon (percussion, vocals) forges a style that dips into an even broader range than their cultural backgrounds would suggest.
The mélange of fiddling and bass groove that is “Danish 7/8” sets the tone for an evocative program. Like the many waltzes scattered throughout, it has an alluring brogue all its own. One feels in its dance a willful ignorance of time, a carefree tide. Between the singsong brushstrokes of “Treenigheden” (The Trinity) and the freshly realized “Hen i April” (Into April), there is plenty of likeminded energy to keep one's feet moving and heart smiling. All of which makes the downtrodden moments deeper. Mournful songs such as the 150-year-old “Pigen & Soldaten” (The Girl & The Soldier), in which love proves as fleeting as life on the battlefield, practically cry out for a stein of ale in hand and a small crowd with whom to raise it. Other prominent themes include homesickness and magic. In the latter vein we have “Elverskud” (The Elven's Spell), a cautionary medieval ballad to which the group appends a credit roll of sorts to the tune of “Men Dansen den går” (But the dance goes on).
Yet Himmerland excels wherever there is frivolity be had. Romme's soprano saxophone enhances the driven melodies of “Gæstebud” (Feast), while the accompanying “Skrumlehesten” plants a fertile, upbeat field. “Ingen ved Hvoraf” (No one knows from where) is a percussive vehicle with a splash of reggae that boasts more fine work from Krejniuk. Solomon delights in “Tabte Fjer” (Lost Feathers), with its mystical klezmer vibe. That Himmerland ends with “Afsked” (Farewell) is appropriate on many fronts. As a song of mourning, it draws a confident line under life.
After such an amiable journey, it only makes sense to press on into the wilds of the Ale Möller Band's Argai. Möller is the king to Lena Willemark's queen in the Swedish folk revival movement, but in the current project he seems not as interested in panning the rivers of tradition as he is in spanning bridges across them. The mandola virtuoso fronts a merry congregation of multi-talented singers and instrumentalists, including Maria Stellas (Greek lead vocals), Mamadou Sene (West African lead vocals), Magnus Stinnerbom (fiddles), Sébastien Dubé (bass), and Rafael Sida Huizar (percussion). Most emblematic of the band's character is the “Anathema Suite.” Combining both old and new elements, it takes us from the Mediterranean to the plains of West Africa to the villages of Finland in under eight minutes. The band excels at just this sort of topographical—not to mention linguistic—blending, leaving a trail of invisible seams with a taste as crisp as a natural spring in such delectable composites as “Samicos” and “Pers Erik-Polska” (melding a Greek wedding song into a Swedish fiddle tune under cover of Sene's visceral rasp), “Draken” (a playful song that sets a Greek folk poem to music by Möller), and “Doli,” which couches a Senegalese nursery rhyme in a jaw harp quintet and Dubé's thick-skinned bass.
Möller and Sene are a formidable pair throughout, lending their skills to the title feast ballad and to “Atebale,” the latter a moving tribute to life-giving water. A handful of traditional Senegalese songs, in fact, makes its way into the program, notably the tongue-in-cheek “Nar” and the lullaby “Masamba.” In them is a sense of space and openness that finds balance in Stella's crucibles of grief. As in “Orkistika,” her voice forges a verdant life cycle from seed to ash and shines like a beacon to help us through the hardest of times, while in the lovelorn “Vasilevi” and “Agapimene” she marks the passage of day into night. Another song from Senegal, “Yum Yum,” tips the scales one last time, ending things with a coming of age: hopeful, enlivening, and communal.
Despite being invigorating works of art, both albums suffer only for being so cleanly recorded. This is music that begs to be heard out in the open, where the dirt and din of the world might learn something from its joys. Here's hoping their travels will cross with yours. - Tyran Grillo
Himmerland CD is available from cdRoots