Homecoming Queen by NID

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Homecoming Queen
Playing With Music (www.playingwithmusic.se)

NID are a Swedish trio comprised of Mia Marin (five-stringed fiddle), Hanna Wiskari Griffiths (soprano saxophone), and Petter Berndalen (percussion). The three musicians met at the Royal College of Music, forming the band in Stockholm in 2002. As a project, NID was conceived as an experimental ground on which the three musicians explored how to get their different instruments to sound, according to the band, “like one.” The word “precision” has appeared in write-ups of the band, and I'm certainly not one to disagree – the playing here is absolutely lovely, with enough air left in the arrangements for moments of invention to shine through.

I admit I am not an enormous fan of the soprano saxophone, but Hanna Wiskari Griffiths' playing has made me rethink the instrument. NID are not the first Nordic band to utilize a wind instrument – one could easily point to the work of Arbete Och Fritid, Groupa, Dan Gisen Malmquist, or Den Fule – but it is Griffiths' fine tone and warm accessibility that stands out here. Her approach is to sometimes make the saxophone double the fiddle lines, while at other times departing to test the edges of the music. One would expect some jazz-influenced 'flights of fancy' with the inclusion of a soprano saxophone in a band such as this: although the effect is not that of some ECM label starkness, Griffiths modulates her instrument on folk tunes so that NID's album is akin to summer fields filled with butterflies.

Marin's fiddle work is equally impressive, and like the other members of NID she shares an interest and training in Norwegian folk music as well as the Swedish tradition. Several of the tunes on Homecoming Queen bear her imprint, such as opener “Huvet i sandlådan [Head in the Sandbox],” dedicated to the fiddle player's grandmother who, when throwing sand onto her driveway one winter, ended up headfirst in the sandbox. (The tune fairly skips joyfully about, so we can presume that this was an incident that concluded happily.)

"Huvet i sandlådan" (excerpt)

Petter Berndalen's work with NID provides an interesting undercurrent, as he is not using a traditional drum kit, but an array of percussion instruments. The influence of Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset is clear (there are the tinkling of bells and cymbals, but not the enormous Isungest 'crashes'), and Berndalen's work in this trio has a subtle majesty. The percussion works to enhance the directions laid down by Griffiths and Marin, and occasionally the pieces open up to allow Berndalen to motor away on his own.

"Polska efter August i vrem" (excerpt)

A wonderful and thrilling example of how NID work together as a tight unit is on “Norwegian Troubles,” where the group pair a Norwegian polska (after Leif-Inge Schølberg) with an American tune by Bruce Molsky. For the first half of the tune, Marin's fiddle lines are closely shadowed by Griffiths, before Marin begins sliding deep into bluesy lines. Berndalen punctuates the changes nicely while Marin and Griffiths escalate their spirals around each other, finally meeting in the coda.

"Norwegian Troubles"

The title track is a joyful romp, as one might expect amongst reunited friends; it sounds like a dance, as does much of NID's repertoire. We are also treated to a stately “Visa i December [December song],” its traces finely executed with the kind of winter bite that one finds amongst the art-folk chamber music genre where NID sometimes nestle. The closing, traditional tune “Ola Laingen” allows us to appreciate the three musicians not exactly following each other's lead, but sharing in the melody on equal terms.

"Visa i December"

NID's Homecoming Queen is definitely an album that grows on the listener, and the trio does manage an exquisite deception: these are carefully arranged and choreographed tunes which might seem as if they touch musical traditions with a playful heart, but in fact reveal astonishing depths. – Lee Blackstone

Visit the artists online: www.nidmusic.com

Further reading:
[ni:d] (the trio's earlier recording)
Habbadám: Still Young

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