Frode Haltli-Avant Folk.

Label: Hubro Music.

Release Date: ‘15th’ June 2018.

Album Of The Week.

Frode Haltli was born in Levanger, in the municipality of Trøndelag, on the ’15th’ of May 1975, and by the time he was seven, had already started to play the accordion. The young  Frode Haltli proved to be a prodigious talent, and within a few years, was entering and winning talent competitions. This included Norwegian television’s Talentiaden 1991 which brought sixteen year old Frode Haltli to the attention of a wider audience. By then, the young accordionist seemed destined to make a career out of music, and twenty-seven years later, Frode Haltli has just released his new album Avant Folk on Hubro Music which is the latest chapter in Frode Haltli’s career.

Back in 1994, nineteen year old  Frode Haltli travelled to Copenhagen, where he enrolled at the prestigious Royal Danish Academy of Music. This was where he completed his musical education and in 2000, returned to his alma mater to play a concert. By then, great things were being forecast of Frode Haltli.

In 2001, Frode Haltli was awarded the Young Soloist of the Year prize by the Norwegian Concert Institute and was runner-up in the  Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition in the Netherlands. Buoyed by this success, it wasn’t long before Frode Haltli signed  his first recording contract with ECM.

The following year, 2002, Frode Haltli released his debut album Looking On Darkness with the Vertavo String Quartet. It was released to critical acclaim and won a Spellemannprisen, which is  the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy Award for the best contemporary music album. In France in 2004, Looking On Darkness won the prestigious Prix Gus Viseur award. By then, Frode Haltli had recorded two more albums with two different bands.

This included Rusk, who were a traditional Norwegian folk trio that featured Frode Haltli, singer Unni Løvlid and fiddler Vegar Vårdal. Rusk released their eponymous debut album in 2002, which was well received by critics. However, it was four more years before Rusk returned with the followup. By then, Frode Haltli’s other was busy with his other band, Poing.

Frode Haltli had cofounded Poing in 1999 with double bassist Håkon Thelin and saxophonist Rolf Erik Nystrøm, and initially, played music by young Norwegian composers in clubs and at festivals. Four years later, in 2003,  Poing released its debut album Giants Of Jazz to plaudits and praise. Two years later, in 2005, Poing returned with their much-anticipated sophomore album Giants Of Poing which was lauded by critics. Poing and Frode Haltli’s career was going for strength-to-strength.

In 2006, Frode Haltli’s folk trio Rusk returned with their sophomore album Rusk II. Although the album was well received by critics, Rusk II was the last album that Rusk released.

After the release of Rusk II, Frode Haltli turned his attention to his much-anticipated sophomore album, Passing Images which would be the followup to the critically acclaimed and award-winning debut album Looking On Darkness. Passing Images which featured Frode Haltli’s interpretations of Norwegian folk music had a lot to live up to, but when it was released in 2007, it was to widespread critical acclaim.

The following year 2008, was a busy year for Frode Haltli, with Poing contributed a track to Maja S. K. Ratkje’s album River Mouth Echoes. Frode Haltli also played on Norwegian jazz saxophonist’s Trygve Seim’s  album Yeraz which was released on ECM in 2008. By then, Frode Haltli’s star was in the ascendancy, although it was only six years since he had released his debut album Looking On Darkness. He had come a long way short time.

During the next couple of years, Frode Haltli worked with a variety of artists , but also found time to record Poing’s new album, Wach Auf! This time, it was a collaboration between Poing and Maja S. K. Ratkje. The genre-melting Wach Auf!, which was released in 2011, was an ambitious album, and was Poing’s first release in six years.

After a five-year wait, Frode Haltli returned with a new solo album Arne Nordheim Complete Accordion Works in 2012, and two years later in 2014 released the critically acclaimed Vagabonde Blu on Hubro Music. Vagabonde Blu was one of the finest albums of the Frode Haltli’s career. 

Over the next two years, Frode Haltli found himself working on several albums, and was asked to play on Trygve Seim’s 2016 album Rumi Songs. He also recorded two albums with Poing, including Sur Poing and Kapital and Moral were released in 2016. So was StaiStua which was a critically acclaimed collaboration between Andreas Ulvo, Sigurd Hole and Frode Haltli. However, Frode Haltli released one more album during 2016.

This was Frode Haltli’s eagerly awaited solo album Air, which featured The Trondheim Soloists and The Arditti Quartet. When Air was released in 2016, it was hailed as a fitting followup to Vagabonde Blu and a welcome addition to Frode Haltli’s discography. The big question was what was next for Frode Haltli?

Avant Folk.

Buoyed by the commercial success and critically acclaimed Air, Frode Haltli was keen to begin work on the followup album Avant Folk, which would eventually feature five compositions. Frode Haltli composed two new compositions Hug and Neid. Of the other three compositions, Trio was based upon two traditional Norwegian songs; King was based upon a traditional Faroese Kingo hymn; and Gråtar’n was a traditional waltz from Finnskogen. The five compositions that later became Avant Folk were recorded in Oslo, Norway, in February 2017 by an all-star band.

Frode Haltli had decided to record Avant Folk at the Riksscenen studio, in Oslo, where he would co-produce the album with his friend Maja S.K.Ratkje. Joining accordionist Frode Haltli was a rhythm section that featured Trondheim Jazz Orchestra’s drummer and vocalist Siv Øyunn Kjenstad, Moskus and Skadedyr double bassist  Fredrik Luhr Dietrichson and Moksha’s  guitarist and vocalist Oddrun Lilja Jonsdottir. They were joined by The Island Band’s guitarist and electronic guru Juhani Silvola; Supersilent and Motorpsycho keyboardist Stale Storlokken who plays harmonium and synths; Hardanger fiddle players Erlend Apneseth; violinist Hans P. Kjorstad; saxophonist Rolf-Erik Nystrøm and Hildegunn Øiseth who played trumpet, bukkehorn (goat horn) and adds vocal. This talented and versatile band spent part of February 2017 recording Avant Folk with recordist Fridtjof A. Lindeman, and over the days and weeks, the album started to shape.

Once the recording was complete, Maja S.K.Ratkje edited and mixed Avant Folk, before the album was mastered at Audiovirus Lab by Helge Sten a.k.a. Deathprod. With the album mastered, Avant Folk was ready for release and on ‘15th’ June 2018 Frode Haltli’s much-anticipated album was released.

Hug which opens Avant Folk, is best described as a dreamlike fusion of contemporary experimental folk, jazz and chamber-music. The galloping, off-kilter rhythm adds a cinematic quality as the unmistakable sound of Frode Haltli’s wheezing accordion is augmented by a violin, Hardanger fiddle and samples, as an array of sounds assail the listener. Later, this includes a guitar, horns and standup bass as the arrangement floats and meanders dreamily along, sometimes growing in power and drama, before latterly becoming understated. Briefly, the galumphing cartoon rhythm returns before the arrangement dissipates after seven magical minutes.

Pizzicato strings open Trio and create an understated backdrop, and eventually grows in power  before the  arrangement becomes wistful as the Hardanger fiddle and violin combine and tug at the listener’s heartstrings. Meanwhile, beauty is omnipresent throughout this melodic example of Nordic folk music.

Initially, Kingo features mesmeric drums that sounds as if they’ve been inspired by traditional African music that combine with an accordion and later, a melancholy fiddle. By then, it sounds as if the accordion is playing fragments of sea shanty as the drums never miss a beat and add an element of drama. Soon, the tempo increases and ethereal harmonies and handclaps and searing guitar are added  and transform the arrangement. Later, the accordion takes centre-stage as drums pound and instruments flit in and out of the carefully crafted arrangement. This includes the harmonium before Hildegunn Øiseth adds an improvised trumpet solo and scratchy strings played with freedom add a degree of urgency to this genre-melting track. It features elements of African music, avant-garde, folk, free jazz and rock. However, it’s a gypsy violin, accordion, drums,  harmonies and handclaps that join forces latterly with a free jazz horn during this eleven minute epic.

A myriad of disparate sound combine before Gråtar’n reveals its secrets. This includes pizzicato strings, an eerie rasping horn and haunting strings that sound as if they belong in a horror film. Even the wheezing accordion has an eerie, otherworldly sound that is matched by the violin. Later, the Hardanger fiddle plays what sounds like a lament as the arrangement becomes dark, dramatic and haunting. Always, though, it’s rich in imagery and guaranteed to paint pictures.

Neid closes Avant Folk, and initially, Frode Haltli’s wheezing accordion plays its part in a haunting, otherworldly arrangement. Soon, this changes, although there’s still a sense of melancholy as the accordion takes centre-stage. It’s joined by the Hardanger fiddle as the arrangement starts to waltz along against a shuffling beat. Meanwhile, the standup bass accompanies the accordion and gradually, other instruments are introduced including a chiming guitar which combines with the double bass and later accordion as Frode Haltli and his band paint pictures. At 7.42 the tempo increases and music becomes dramatic as the violin and horns are introduced and improvise playing with an urgency and sometimes with a freedom. Later, Frode Haltli and his band drop the tempo and return to earlier sound as the arrangement takes on a beautiful, cinematic sound and this fourteen minute opus closes Avant Folk on a high.

Avant Folk is a truly groundbreaking album that doesn’t fall neatly within any of the existing musical genres, and instead, is a genre-melting album that features elements of avant-garde, classical music, experimental, folk, free jazz, improv, jazz, rock and traditional African music. This is a potent and heady brew that results in a truly ambitious and captivating album that is best described as Avant Folk, and it looks like forty-three year old Frode Haltli is going to be one a small number of musicians who has invented a new musical genre.  

Doubtless many other musicians will be keen to follow in the footsteps of Frode Haltli whose the founding father of Avant Folk and record a similar type of album. However, very few of these musicians will be able to record an album as good as Avant Folk which surpasses the quality of Frode Haltli’s previous album Air.

That is no surprise as Avant Folk features music that veers between beautiful, dreamy and ethereal, to cinematic and rich in imagery, to dramatic, eerie, haunting  and otherworldly, to melancholy and wistful. Sometimes the music is hypnotic and mesmeric, while much of the music on Avant Folk has a timeless quality. Other times, Frode Haltli throws a curveball and the multilayered, genre-melting music on Avant Folk heads in a totally unexpected direction as a myriad of disparate sounds assail the listener. They come courtesy of Frode Haltli’s all-star band and an array instruments, electronics and samples. They play their in the musical tapestry that is Avant Folk, which is without doubt, one of the finest albums of Frode Haltli’s sixteen year recording career, and is the album that looks like launching, and lending its name to a new musical genre.

Frode Haltli-Avant Folk.

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