Rímur is a collection of seventeen chants, hymns, folk songs and improvisations based on ancient Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish sources, brought into our contemporary way of sensing by singer/violinist Anna Maria Friman
, singers Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Berit Opheim, and eminent trumpeter Arve Henriksen
The music of this album is a clear example of the deep-rooted migrational nature of our local existence. It is music of a remote past, marked by radically different life conditions. It is music from distant areas connected by wandering people in search of better life conditions. It is music handed down by word of mouth for a long time and finally documented in written form during the last century. It is music to be recovered, reconstructed and re-contextualized in an ongoing process of searching, appropriating and re-inventing, of sense making at the intersection of a resonating past and today's breathing.
Starting point and place of inspiration was the village of Rivedal in the municipality of Askvoll, near the mouth of the Dalsfjord to the Northern Atlantic. The Dalsfjord is situated about 110 km northwest of the city of Bergen in between the Sognefjord and the Nordfjord. Arve Henriksen grew up not too far from this place, namely in Stryn in the Nordfjord area some 180 km northeast of Askvoll. In the 9th century Ingolfur Arnarson, a guy from Rivedal, initiated the settlement of Iceland. Iceland is situated 1400 km westwards of Rivedal in the Northern Atlantic between the Faeröer Islands and Greenland. Ingolfur Arnarson became entangled in a blood feud in 874. After having lost his possessions he decided to set sail together with two relatives, in search of a reported new island in the middle of the Northern Atlantic. Eventually he founded Reykjavik, now the capital of Iceland. This all happened more than a thousand years ago (as reported in the medieval Icelandic Landnámabók manuscript).
The Dalsfjorden area with its migration history was the musician's place of inspiration to connect ancient songs and singing of Northern areas including Iceland, the Orkney Islands, Norwegian and Swedish regions. The result is a sequence of medieval hymns, Icelandic Tvisöngur, Ríma, Folk Songs, Shanties and newly invented pieces in the spirit of the ancient forms.
Impressive from the first moment of listening is the strength, calmness and concentration this originally monophonic music exudes. Some may need more time to really get into it but it offers the listener to opportunity to feel the deeper ground of existence the music is touching upon. As Anna Friman states in her liner notes: "It's hard for us to imagine now, but until quite late in the medieval period relatively little sacred polyphony was heard at all (either in church or elsewhere). Monophonic chant was the rock on which almost all musical experience was founded."
The opener, the Swedish "St. Birgitta Hymn," starts with a lead voice soon after joined by two backing vocals and, hardly discernible, a kind of trumpet drone. Then the three female voices melt into one voice contrasted by the rising sound of the trumpet taking the lead with embellishing lines. These constant subtle dynamic changes and transitions, the almost imperceptible use of foregrounding and background, the slight ways of zooming in and out, the mirroring and distancing are a central mark of the album. It convokes an atmosphere that gives wings to the listener's imagination.
In "O Jesu dulcissime," one of the four Icelandic Tvisöngur, Anna Freeman's curving Hardanger fiddle merges with Henriksen's trumpet thereby mingling with the two voices of Fuglseth and Opheim in airy ways. Further on Hardanger fiddle and trumpet constantly intertwine and diverge in their interplay with the two voices. Thus the 'voices from far away' are carried through the air thereby gaining visceral closeness in the moment of listening. These are always 'small effects' with a large impact on the listening landscape presented. In 'Morguntjarna,' another Icelandic Tvisöngur, Henriksen's trumpet functions as a shadow of the voices rising to the foreground only in a few moments. The richest orchestrated Tvisöngur is "Anda þinn guð mér gef þú vist." It starts with the three female voices from which the trumpet emerges with a longer jubilating solo backed by the murmuring voicesa timeless vocal manifestation.
The most southwestern source is the "St. Magnus Hymn" from the Orkney archipelago situated off the north coast of Scotland. It was (invaded and) settled by the Norse around the same time that Ingolf Arnarson set foot on Iceland. According to the Orkneyinga Saga Orkney was Christianized 100 years later by Norwegian king Olav Tryggvasson in 995. There was a centuries long Norse presence on Orkney, which makes it reasonable for this hymn to be part of the collection of Rímur
. The hymn is introduced by the trumpet and after a while is joined by a repetitive echoing of the three female voices. Later the lead voice takes over and unites with the other two voices. The trumpet returns shortly before the voices turn to soft humming and fade away. Not only the arrangement of the four voices is remarkable here. The sequencing and repetition of parts of the song with a humming conclusion is sophisticated too. We don't know how 'the original' sounded, but here it sounds intuitively 'right.'
There is a lot more of that on the album. It makes it a worthwhile and so far unique aural journey. After all, it is the first album of this combination of musicians, a combination that has proved itself already in other contexts as a golden choice, especially in its already longer lasting collaboration with eminent Norwegian singer/kantele player Sinikka Langeland on The Magical Forest
(2016, ECM). Another one is Trio Mediæval's recent pairing with the trio of Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen comprising pianist Harmen Fraanje and drummer Thomas Strønen in the stunning "Memorabilia," a work commissioned by and premiered at the Trondheim Jazz Fest last year and touring presently. The latest one is the Saumur + Rímur constellation. Here the Saumur trio of Icelandic musicians Skuli Sverrisson (bass) and Hilmar Jensson (guitar) together with Arve Henriksen meets Trio Mediaeval with Arve Henriksen as connecting link between both trios. And meanwhile the trio also left its mark in present pop music: Trio Mediæval's rendition of "just" (after Song of Songs) is sampled in the intro and outro of the piece "Lips" on The XX's just released album I See You
Worth mentioning is that the brilliant and touching sound of Arve Henriksen here did not just fall from the sky one day, as a divine boon. Henriksen is a musician with many sides, who has explored and developed his playing in a long and deep sonic journey. It is remarkable how seemingly heterogeneous spheres are unified on Rímur
including natural transitions between mundane Folk Songs and Sacred Music.