Nils Økland: Kjølvatn

Karl Ackermann By

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The significance of the Hardanger Fiddle—a homespun Norwegian variation of the violin—is that while it is played on four strings, as a similar string instrument would be, it has four or five additional strings under the fingerboard which vibrate during playing. Though its use has been limited in modern music, Nils Økland has not only mastered it, but has expanded its scope across non- traditional folk styles from rock, trance and classical to jazz. On Kjølvatn he plays an assortment of stringed instruments but it is this fiddle that supplies the most unusual music.

Økland's career has not been skewed toward commercially acceptable projects but to varied artistic endeavors that bridge perceptions about instrumentation and genre. He has taken his fiddle, violin and viola to the more folk-oriented territory of Bris (Rune Grammofon, 2004) to the far edgier and sometimes psychedelic Lumen Drones (ECM, 2014). On Kjølvatn Økland retains the folkloric atmosphere of his native land—and a Celtic feel in general—while infusing a stronger jazz influence in his ten original compositions. Here, the effects of his work with the chamber ensemble of Christian Wallumrod and the altogether dissimilar work of multi- instrumentalist/composer Georg Buljos can be seen as coming together with Økland's own organic touch.

Despite a crafty groove, "Mali" opens the collection in the previously mentioned Celtic vein, and while not a reel, it is up-tempo and infectious. "Undergrunn," in sharp contrast, is a beautifully melancholy piece as is the title track with Mats Eilertsen's bass dictating the mood. Darker still is the ominous "Drev," where Rolf—Erik Nylstrøm's saxophone rumbles and the ominous "Puls" with Håkon Mørch Stene's undercurrent of booming percussion joining Eilertsen. "Blå harding" evokes the Scottish highlands thanks to Sigbjorn Apeland's harmonium and Økland on either the viola or fiddle (the two having quite similar dynamics).

These string instruments are potent tools in the hands of Økland. He conveys a range of emotions from celebratory to mournful and does so without unnecessary embellishment; without sentimentality or excess of any kind. The quintet expertly provides emphasis or subtlety where needed and they work toward a common goal even when improvising. Kjølvatn is a beautiful album; strong, nuanced and full of brilliantly conceived ideas made whole.

Track Listing: Mali; Undergrunn; Drev; Kjølvatn; Puls; Fivreld; Start; Skugge; Blå harding; Amstel.

Personnel: Nils Økland: viola d’amore, hardanger fiddle, violin; Rolf–Erik Nylstrøm: saxophone; Sigbjørn Apeland: harmonium; Håkon Mørch Stene: percussion, vibraphone; Mats Eilertsen: double bass.

Title: Kjølvatn | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: ECM Records


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