Sunday, March 13, 2011

In review--Brave Viking Violin

Susanne Lundeng
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

In 2004 I reviewed Norwegian fiddler-violinist Susanne Lundeng’s Strange Journey for my former website Cranky Crow World Music (2002-2007). While I found that album ambitious blending jazz and traditional music, her 2011 recording Mot (Courage) represents contemplative Nordic music where jazz, traditional, and classical intersect. Lundeng experiments with tonality on Imella where she’s joined by BØde Sinfonietta. On the remaining tracks she either flies solo or pairs off with a chamber musicians Min Ensemble, piano and accordion. While the songs moves along at a slower tempo, they possess a primal, untamed feel, such as on tracks 4 and 7 when the violin takes on a Hungarian gypsy quality.

I think the courage in the album’s title refers mostly to Imella (track 6) in which the violinist experiments with tonality. However, the dissonance on the track leaves me feeling uneasy. I prefer the more pastoral songs on the album. I realize many Northern European musicians enjoy exploring tonality, not sure the reason. If I lived in a cold and dark place for most of the year (I did this year), I’d be listening to tropical or Mediterranean music not music that leaves me feeling tense. Gaven with Lundeng’s violin swirling and whirling over the chamber ensemble strings, the lively NØktern where the violin leaps from grace notes, and the dreamy Havn with its clarinet solo and waltz-like violin and piano all hit the spot. These pieces portray enchantment, revelry, while leaving space for dreaming. You’ll even hear Lundeng sing on Havn.

The folks at KKV draw a comparison between Lundeng and the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. While Lundeng possesses some fabulous musical chops and a gift as a composer, I think the comparison to the master bandoneon player is too far a stretch (he's one of my favorite modern composers along with Nino Rota of Fellini fame). Still, there’s nothing to scoff at here. The musicians give their best and break new ground. The violin playing sounds fabulous and might just hit the spot during contemplative moments.

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