Yggdrasil / Herrelaus
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Heilo (www.grappa.no/heilo.htm)

cd cover This is the first recording of Bergen-based folk quintet Yggdrasil. The group cut its teeth playing Balkan folk tunes, but then settled on performing Norwegian and Swedish roots music. The songs on Herrelaus are mostly drawn from the Norwegian and Swedish tradition, but one can still occasionally hear the Balkan influence, especially in the presence and use of instruments like the tuba and clarinet. The Balkan imprint is most obvious on "Balkanspringar," a springar (a three-beat Norwegian dance) composed by Norwegian fiddler Håkon Asheim, which features Balkanesque clarinet.

The Balkan strain, however, is just one element in the complex sound of Herrelaus. The arrangements are intricate, the interplay between the instruments delicate and ornate. "Springar frå Agder" is a sprightly dance tune where a didgeridoo is used effectively to provide a bit of eerie atmospherics. "Greven Av Bar Bakke" is a slow and elegant pols (three-beat dance), where the accordion opens, playing variations on the main melody. Guitar-and-violin take the next turn, then accordion-and-flute, and finally all the instruments take the song to its conclusion with even more ornate variations on the theme.

"Alexandersenpolsen" is a more upbeat pols, where the tuba line provides a surprising bit of bounce, and where the accordion solo at one point takes off on a brief Oriental-sounding tangent. The jews' harp is put to good effect on "Kongstunen," a rull (two-step dance) propelled by the distinctive high sounds of the Hardanger fiddle.

Overall, Herrelaus is a set of highly varied, carefully constructed, and wonderfully executed tunes. Yggdrasil is rooted in the Norwegian and Swedish tradition but not at all afraid to innovate. Listeners will be impressed by the beauty, as well as the occasional hint of humor, of this understatedly complex release. - Ted Swedenburg

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