Norwegian accordionist-composer Frode Haltli’s ten-piece ensemble Avant Folk is an exceptional phenomenon. This mini-big band works on the outskirts of the Norwegian folk music, borrows themes from traditional tunes and features Hardanger fiddler – Erlend Apneseth; it operates like a folk band as the musicians learn the tunes by ear, all take part in arranging the tunes and all share a common feeling of the phrasing and the rhythms, with enough room and freedom for further, exploration of the tunes. But this mostly acoustic ensemble also features Hammond organ and synthesizer player – Ståle Storløkken – and two electric guitarists – Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir and Juhani Silvola. And Avant Folk succeeded to establish its distinguished sound, a lively, soulful, and intimate sound that encompassed both past and present.
«Avant Folk II» is the sophomore album of this ensemble, following also two singles that the ensemble released during the lockdown and was recorded at Newtone Studio in Oslo in October 2020. The first tune «Doggerland» is titled after an archaeological term for the Dogger Bank, the sandbank just below sea level in the North Sea between Norway and the UK. According to the legend, during the last ice age, the bank was populated, therefore a hypothetical folk song from Doggerland should sound like a mix of Norwegian and Irish music. This tune does sound like a catchy song that brings the best from the two traditions but also offers an abstract party where Storløkken, sax player Rolf-Erik Nystrøm and second fiddler Hans P. Kjorstad take the ensemble to a surprising undersea dive. The following «Nordlys» (northern lights), is based upon a theme Haltli wrote in 2014 for the German road movie «Nordland» (directed by Ingo K. Biermann). Trumpeter Hildegunn Øiseth and Haltli introduce this suggestive and meditative dreamscape, before the ensemble colors it with delicate, almost transparent touches.
«Gravberget’» borrows fragments of traditional dance tunes from Solør, after traditional players like Gustav Kåterud, Jon Østhaug and Adolf Haldammen, and is the closest to traditional Norwegian music on this album. It is titled after a tiny village very close to where Haltli grew up, near vast forest areas called the Finnish woods (Finnskogen), after Finnish immigration in the 17th century. Avant Folk mix the traditional asymmetrical rhythm with West-African cyclical rhythmic traditions, but guitarist Lilja Jonsdottir suddenly takes this dance tune even further with her psychedelic rock solo. The title of the last tune «I Østen som i Vesten (All over the Place)», can be translated like «in the East as in the West», and it reflects faithfully its border-crossing spirit. This song sounds like it is rooted in archaic Norwegian tradition but also based on an Arabic maqam, as both great traditions use scales with microtones.
This kind of unorthodox sonic imagination, sense of adventure and openly emotional and peaceful spirit makes this ensemble one of a kind.
Frode Haltli (acc), Erlend Apneseth (Hardanger vio), Hans P. Kjorstad (vio), Rolf-Erik Nystrøm (s), Hildegunn Øiseth (tp, goat horn, v), Ståle Storløkken (Hammond org, synth), Juhani Silvola (g), Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir (g, v), Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson (b), Siv Øyunn Kjenstad (dr, v)