Grimborg. Gjaillarhorn: Jenny Wilhelms, vocals, fiddle, Hardanger fiddle; et al.
Grimborg. Gjallarhorn: Jenny Wilhelms, vocals, fiddle, Hardanger fiddle; Adrian Jones, viola, mandola, kalimba; Sara Puljula, double bass, percussion; Tommy Mansikka-Aho, didgeridoo, slideridoo, jaw harp. (NorthSide, NSD 6070)
Gjallarhorn (pronounced "Yallarhorn") hails from Ostrobothnia, the Swedish-speaking part of Finland, and takes its name from the horn that gatekeeper Heimdal used to send messages from the other gods of Asgård to the humans of Midgård. Entering a grimborg was an old Finnish ritual in which people trod stone mazes. The word grímr means concealing, and borg stands for the stronghold, the dwelling. According to the band's website (www.gjallarhorn.com), the medieval ballads on this album are all about transformations: "to hide one's true face, to conquer obstacles on the way, to discover the underground/the subconscious, and to finally rediscover one's right element." From the opening track, this is a captivating listen. Jenny Wilhelms, who studied at the Sibelius Academy, the Grieg Academy, and the Ole Bull Academy, has a voice that's pure delight without ever being cloying. Her fiddling is fine as well, often pairing with Adrian Jones' viola playing in what the band refers to as "octavation." On more heavily arranged numbers, the world-beat percussion and seemingly out-of-character drones from Down Under seem a perfect fit. In contrast, a simple, plaintive duet of viola and voice on "Ack Lova Gud (Oh Praise the Lord)" is stunningly beautiful. There are calls to gods and calls to cows. That's right, cows. "Kulning (Cow Calling)" is nearly indescribable: Think screechingly high trumpet, then realize it's a human voice. It would be excruciating if it weren't so amazing. A ballad called "Vallevan" again showcases the viola, in an obbligato that begins with eerie harmonics that morph into a driving accompaniment to Wilhelm’s insistent vocals. Several instrumentals punctuate the songs, including a set of three tunes in a row: a stately "Polonaise" (one of various treble-meter forms that turn up in the music of Scandinavia); "Menuette," which begins in a similar rhythm but throws the occasional rhythmic curve ball, as though the dancers have extra feet; and "Njawara," a peppy 4/4 romp. Later, the second of another pair of tunes, "Frøysnen/Soteroen," similarly challenges those who would try to count beats. Just nod or tap your foot, you'll be fine.
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