Nils Økland Band-Lysning.

Label: Hubro Music.

Nowadays, fifty-six year old composer and Hardanger fiddle virtuoso Nils Økland is regarded as one of the elder statesman of Norwegian music, and a truly versatile musician whose played everything from folk, jazz, baroque and rock to art rock and improv. Regardless of what type of music Nils Økland has played, he has been always an innovator, and someone who pushed boundaries to their limits, and sometimes beyond. That has been the case with Nils Økland’s solo albums, and also the Nils Økland Band’s debut album Kjølvatn which was released to critical acclaim in 2014. 

After the release of Kjølvatn, the Nils Økland Band’s debut album won a Norwegian Folk Music Award, and was nominated for a Spellemannspris, which is the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award. This is the most prestigious award in Norwegian music, and to be nominated was a huge honour and recognition of just how good an album Kjølvatn was.

Since then, the followup to Kjølvatn has been eagerly awaited by both critics and music fans, who were wondering what direction the Nils Økland Band’s music would head in? After all, its leader was a musical chameleon who had reinvented his music numerous times during an illustrious four decade career. Now after a three-year wait, the same lineup of the Nils Økland Band return with Lysning which was recently released by Hubro Music. 

The first thing that will strike many music fans os the title of the Nils Økland Band’s sophomore. What is a Lysning? It’s defined in English as a “clearing” or “forest glade.” However, in the case of Nils Økland and the Nils Økland Band, Lysning is the album that he’s spent a lifetime working towards, and is his Magnus Opus. 

Lysning is also an album that showcases Nils Økland and the Nils Økland Band’s unique and imitable, genre-melting sound. This is a sound that has taken shape over the past four decades and doesn’t fit into just one genre. Instead, it’s a mixture of disparate and sometimes unlikely genres that all become part of a Nils Økland and the Nils Økland Band’s own genre. It was heard on the Nils Økland Band’s 2014 debut album Kjølvatn, and returns on their long-awaited and much-anticipated sophomore album Lysning.

For Lysning, the same lineup of the Nils Økland Band made a welcome return to play on the band’s sophomore album. Joining bandleader Nils Økland who played Hardanger fiddle, Viola d’Amore and violin was double bassist Mats Eilertsen, Sigbjørn Apeland on harmonium and Håkon Stene who played electric guitar, percussion and vibraphone. The final band member was Rolf Erik Nystrøm, who switched between alto and baritone saxophone. They began work on the album in summer of 2015.

When work began on Lysning, Nils Økland had already written the main themes to the nine compositions. Some of them weren’t new, and had been written for other projects. They seemed to fit the Lysning project, where Nils Økland wanted to pickup where he left off on Kjølvatn, he wanted to take it further. Nils Økland was aiming to produced a much deeper and more intense followup to  Kjølvatn. Fortunately, the rest of the Nils Økland Band could play their part in the completing the writing of Lysning.

When Nils Økland was joined by the rest of his own band, who were all composers in their own right, some of the tracks were musical sketches. These sketches Nils Økland and his four fellow master musicians fleshed out, and were arranged by ear by the five band members. Eventually, they were transformed into the nine fully fledged tracks on Lysning. So much so, that Nils Økland noted in the sleeve notes that:  “all the music has been developed and arranged in cooperation with the musicians.” Lysning was very much a group affair, with each member of the Nils Økland Band playing their part in writing of their sophomore album.

With the album written, the five members of the Nils Økland Band were joined by sound engineer, Audun Strype, who has worked with Nils Økland since they played together in the new wave band, Lover and Tigre, in the early eighties. They made their way to the Hoff Church, Østre Toten stone church in Lena, in Norway’s Oppland country on the ‘17th’ of August 2015. 

The venue had been chosen with the utmost care, and for two days the Østre Toten stone church was transformed into a makeshift recording studio. Set in a rural idyll, the Østre Toten stone church is beautiful, impressive and imposing structure that would play an important part in shaping the music on Lysning and its structure. When the Nils Økland Band started all the  instruments that played were cushioned by the reverb of the simple stone church. It also added a liturgical sound to Lysning, as the soared high into their air, as their voices united and melted into one. Nils Økland’s choice of venue was hailed a masterstroke, as the sessions finished on the ‘18th’ of August 2015. 

After just two days, the Nils Økland Band had already recorded seven of the nine tracks on Lysning. They had been produced by the triumvirate of Nils Økland, Håkon Stene and recordist Audun Strype. However, just over a year later, they would produce the rest of the rest of Lysning.

The Nils Økland Band and d recordist Audun Strype made their way to the prestigious Norwegian Academy of Music, in Oslo on the ‘25th’ of August 2016 to complete Lysning. That day, the Nils Økland Band recorded Flukt, and the track that closed the album, Sikt. That meant that the recording of Lysning was complete.

With the nine tracks recorded, Nils Økland, Håkon Stene and recordist Audun Strype mixed and then mastered Lysning. Now the Nils Økland Band’s sophomore album Lysning was ready for release.

Over a year later, and Hubro Music have released Lysning, which marks the welcome return of the Nils Økland Band. They return with an album that has been worth the three-year wait… Lysning.

As Drøm opens Lysning, the wistful, ruminative sound of the Hardanger fiddle, before washes and swells of harmonium add a liturgical sound. Sigbjørn Apelan’s harmonium is played slowly and deliberately droning as the thoughtful sounding fiddle is augmented by fluttering and whistling sounds plus scampering percussion. Occasionally feedback threatens to interject, but the tiger is tamed, and this beautiful, reflective track continues to reveal its secrets and tug at the heartstrings.

Straight away, Nils Økland’s Hardanger fiddle takes centre-stage on Lysning, while Sigbjørn Apelan’s harmonium meanders, ebbing and flowing below it. All the time it provides a backdrop for the fiddle, and helps Nils Økland to paint vivid and evocative musical pictures. That is despite the Hardanger fiddle and harmonium producing very different sounds that come from very different backgrounds. The fiddle’s roots are in folk music, while the harmonium again produces a liturgical sound. They become yin and yang, and play leading roles this wistful and rueful cinematic track that also has a poignant sound.

Nils Økland switches to violin on Flukt, which sweeps and swirls while Mats Eilertsen’s double bass accompanies him. It’s played carefully, leaving space which Nils Økland proceeds to fill. He plays slowly and produces a beautiful, dreamy sound that sounds as it’s from another musical era. Very occasionally, Rolf Erik Nystrøm’s braying saxophone interjects, but mostly, it’s just the bass and violin that play leading roles. That is until the closing bars, when Håkon Stene sprinkles subtle percussion below the violin on this beguiling genre-melting track. I

A subtle shimmering, glistening sound gives way to the mournful violin on Skygger. Meanwhile, low in the mix sits various percussive and found sounds drip and shimmer while another is mesmeric. However, the violin takes centre-stage before swells of harmonium enter. Later, an ominous droning sound, and later, wailing but melodic sound emerge from the arrangement. They’re produced  by the Nils Økland Band’s musical arsenal, while some have been treated with effects. All this adds to ruminative sounding track that invites reflection, as the listen embraces its beauty.

There’s a much more experimental sound as dark, droning sound emerge from Blåmyr’s arrangement. They set the scene for the viola d’amore, which blends perfectly with the rest of the soundscape as the tempo rises slightly. Together the Nils Økland Band produce a dark and evocative cinematic soundscape that is sure to set the listener’s imagination racing.

Drums set the scene for the thoughtful Hardanger fiddle on Skumring, and add an element of drama.They’re joined by washes of harmonium which combine with occasional subtle bursts of raspy saxophone that sit back in the mix and become one. This leaves the drums and fiddle to play leading roles. At one point, the arrangement is stripped bare and only the drums remain. Mostly, though the fiddle marches to the beat of the drum, while occasionally harmonium and saxophone are drizzled across the arrangement or interject. This less is more approach works, and plays it part in a wistful and evocative track that is rich in imagery.

Just a lone Hardanger fiddle plays as Speiling starts to reveal its secrets. It’s played slowly and carefully producing a thoughtful, plaintive cry that is full of emotive. Later the fiddle is played briskly, and the bass is plucked it seems like the tempo is about to increase and the arrangement reveal its secrets. However, the Nils Økland Band seem to be toying with the listener as elements of modern classical, folk and jazz combine. Even when the wispy  saxophone and swells of harmonium enter, the arrangement continues to meander along, revealing its secrets, nuances and beauty which is omnipresent during this genre-melting eight minute epic.

A drum roll is followed by a dramatic pause on Bølge. This happens twice before the viola d’amore enters. It soon, drops out leaving the dark, dramatic drums to fill the space. Before long, the viola d’amore returns and sometimes unites with the drums. They add to the sense of drama, and sometimes, add tension and a sense of sadness on another cinematic 

Sikt closes Lysning and finds Nils Økland playing a vintage Hardanger fiddle made in 1925. It has a beautiful tone as he caresses the strings, as subtle swells of harmonium accompany him. Soon, all the Nils Økland Band are playing their part in Sikt, as a plucked bass and washes of effects-laden guitar glisten. They’re part of an understated, but ethereal soundscape that is one of the highlights of Lysning.

Three years after the Nils Økland Band released their debut album Kjølvatn in 2014, they return with their eagerly awaited sophomore album Lysning, which was recently released by Hubro Music. It’s a genre-melting opus where the Nils Økland Band fuse elements of disparate genres including avant-garde, folk, improv, jazz, modern classical and musique concrète on Lysning. There’s also a liturgical sound on Lysning which is no surprise as much of the album was recorded in the Østre Toten stone church was transformed into a makeshift recording studio.

In that makeshift studio, the Nils Økland Band produced seven of nine tracks on Lysning. It’s an album where the music is variously dark, dramatic and dreamy, but also beautiful, and cinematic, and also enchanting, ethereal, emotive, evocative and full of imagery. Other times, the music on Lysning is rueful, wistful, poignant and guaranteed to tug at the listener’s heartstrings. Lysning is also the album that Nils Økland has spent a lifetime working towards, and a career-defining innovative Magnus Opus that that showcases the Nils Økland and the Nils Økland Band’s unique and imitable genre-melting sound. 

Nils Økland Band-Lysning.


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