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CONCERT REVIEWS

Seldom before can three fiddlers have sounded so well matched as the Nordic Fiddlers Bloc.

And seldom before can three fiddles have sounded so much like four and at times five instruments without using electronic trickery.

Just by the voicings, discipline and arrangements they bring to tunes from their native Norway, Sweden and Shetland, Olav Luksengård Mjelva, Anders Hall and Kevin Henderson project the depth and breadth of sound and precision of a string quartet.

For the polka that was apparently banned for its eroticism in Sweden during the 1920s (and sounded uncannily like a forerunner of rock ‘n’ roll), they added, by suggestion, a double bass line while maintaining a full-flavoured top and middle range.

As Henderson and Anders’s mirthful demonstration of this dance would confirm, they do all this without a hint of self-reverence. This is serious, and seriously good, music making with a gag round every corner. Or vice versa.

The joshing that Henderson took for his enthusiasm for bird-watching was followed by a mesmerising, graceful tribute from Luksengård Mjelva, with Henderson and Hall’s pizzicato playing augmented by the Norwegian’s evocative hardanger fiddle.

Hall’s story about the little shepherd boy and the troll, although amusingly soundtracked with spooky glissandos, proved a mite anticlimactic by comparison but such dips were few. The Greenland Man’s Tune, which Shetland whalers allegedly pinched after hearing Eskimos singing it, was gorgeous to begin with and managed to become even more so in its brilliantly controlled fade-out, and the modulation that lifted an already superbly vital Paella Grande was further confirmation, if such were needed, of splendidly simpatico men at work.
- Rob Adams, The Herald (Edinburgh Trad Fest – May 2013)


The Nordic Fiddler’s Bloc comprise of three incredibly accomplished young fiddlers. Olav Luksengård Mjelva, Anders Hall and Kevin Henderson hailing from Norway, Sweden and Shetland as the composite parts of the Nordic Bloc.

These three are extremely talented musicians receiving accolades from the international folk scene in their own right. Each Nordic Bloc players’ unique style and sound is complimented by the others’ and their chosen instruments.

The familiar fiddle and viola are augmented by the octave fiddle and ornate hardanger fiddle in an innovative show case demonstrating the versatility of all three traditions and the musicians’ skills.

The three presented a collection of tunes from across the North Atlantic rim including traditional tunes and original material.
“Da Greenland Man’s Tune” was a piece transported from Greenland to Shetland over 200 years ago. The whaling men heard this melody sung by the Inuit people of Greenland.

They were so struck by it that the tune travelled back to Shetland which gave us the chance to here it at the Gable End in 2013. Collecting and reviving tunes from the shared tradition and history of the North Atlantic regions was a prominent theme throughout the concert.

The shared cultural heritage of the players was expressed through their music and embellished by their individual approaches.
An light hearted theme appeared in the trio’s commentary a high point of which was the Plattgympa.

Plattgympa is a forbidden form of Swedish Polka banned for its subversive and erotic connotations inspiring risqué dancing. This piece moved through phases of Jazz and rock n’ roll highlighting modern and more familiar examples of the establishment reacting against new music. This innovative take on the polka demonstrated the versatility of the stringed instruments and their potential raw power. The trio of fiddles would more than hold their own as part of a contemporary rock or Indy line up.

Layers of harmonies, bass, rhythm and riffs were used to produce a pieces with a haunting orchestral quality much larger than that imagined could come from three men with fiddles. As with the Plattgympa familiar tunes were rearranged and embellished with contemporary backing and harmonies.

“Da Full Rigged Ship” and “Da New Rigged Ship” were given the bloc treatment. Shetland tunes were often written with the hardanger fiddle in mind which perhaps made this version all the more special.

The Nordic Fiddler’s Bloc were received warmly by the Gable End audience who appreciated the humour and anecdotes between tunes. They left Hoy for their next tour date in Yorkshire with an encore of more Shetland reels re imagined by the Nordic Fiddler’s Bloc.

By reuniting the shetland fiddle with its  neighbours the Nordic Fiddlers’s Bloc beautifully illustrated the cultural ties between people in the North Atlantic regions while the introduction of modern influences opens up the genre to a much wider audience.
Euphemia Matheson - www.orkneynewstoday.co.uk (Gable End Theatre, Orkney – May 2013


The second half is devoted entirely to The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc; to be frank, it’s not a terribly exciting name for a band. Olav Luksengård Mjelva, Anders Hall and Kevin Henderson (Fiddlers Bid, Session A9) who come from Norway, Sweden and the Shetland Islands respectively are, however, quite exceptionally exciting fiddle players, even in this week of fine fiddle players. Sharing the confident strength and forcefulness of the Nordic style, their playing is dazzling, but the reason they take the Phipps Hall by storm is their masterful, intricate, carefully woven arrangements which introduce so much space, light and shade into the music that it’s hard to believe that it comes from only three fiddles.

 Among many delights, a Swedish Polska is given  the rock ‘n’ roll treatment, while ‘Mountain Bird’ is a musical picture, a thing of astonishing beauty. Several encores are loudly – very loudly – demanded, given and savoured before the audience reluctantly allows the evening to end.
- Jennie Macfie, www.northings.com (Blazin in Beauly – October 2012)


ALBUM REVIEWS

Sparkling fiddles. Three strong fiddle traditions unite in The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, consisting of Olav Luksengård Mjelva (Norway), Anders Hall (Sweden) and Kevin Henderson (Shetland).

They form a powerful string trio and should evoke pleasurable shudders on all fiddle and folk music enthusiasts.
I surrender unconditionally to these master musicians.

The worn concept of “tradition and innovation” have rarely been used as smart as this. The group offers an unbelievable swing, yet it is the delicate Fjellvåk (Mountain Bird) which ends up taking my breath away. Phew!

In other popular music genres there is sometimes talk of super groups which too often falls flat when it comes to the music. But here comes folk music’s own supergroup that deserves attention far outside the usual channels!
- Lars Lind, Lira

 

A Shetlander, a Swede and a Norwegian: three fiddlers from the Nordic countries, playing a selection of music from their own traditions, as well as some Scottish and American fiddle tunes, this CD shows the depth and variety of pure fiddle music. Harmonies, rhythms, melody and percussion all come from just three fiddles.

Kevin Henderson from Shetland, Anders Hall from Sweden, and Olav Luksengard Mjelva from Norway provide every note on this album: no guests, no technomancy, and as far as I can tell no overdubs. The level of skill and musicality here is fantastic, but The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc don’t take themselves too seriously: there’s fun and laughter aplenty too. Each member also contributes a composition of his own, brilliantly interpreted in Old King Cole style: no solos in this collection.

From biting reels to beautiful waltzes, the trio presents a wide palette of Nordic fiddle music. Slow numbers are in the majority, but there are plenty of spirited dance tunes too. Several tracks contain something of the mysterious modes and meters of dark northern winters: Polska from Delsbo, Halling from Trondheim, or the eerie slow version of Da Greenlandman’s Tune.

The lads swap between fiddle and viola, octave fiddle and the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, creating many different tones and textures. There are almost as many highlights as there are tacks here: a great but sadly nameless Shetland reel, a swinging tribute for Maria’s 27th Birthday by Anders, the beautiful Fjellvak by Olav and friends, Kevin’s reel for Jenna Reid, and the final Waltz after Lasse in Lyby deserve special mention. Surprise inclusions are the old-time fiddle standards Midnight on the Water and Bonaparte’s Retreat, as well as Charlie McKerron’s Paella Grande, but even without these exotic additions this CD would be tasty enough.
On the evidence to hand, pure fiddle doesn’t get much better than The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc.
- Alex Monaghan, Folkworld

 

The fiddle has been in its ascendency for the past few years and this Swedish/ Norwegian/Shetland Island trio ramp it up further with a dozen beautifully arranged tunes that draw the listener into worlds at light year’s remove from the quotidian sound patterns that populate our airwaves.

Two of the trio contribute original music to the mix, too, and Shetland fiddler Kevin Henderson’s Jenna Reid of Quarff is a hiccuping joy to behold, as is Swede Anders Hall’s swinging polka, Maria’s 27th Birthday Plattgympa.

For many of us, our ears have become accustomed to the Hardanger fiddle from the playing of Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, and its plaintive earthy tones are writ large here by Norwegian Olav Luksengård Mjelva.

The Bloc’s real triumph, though, is in binding the disparate sounds of Scandinavia and Shetland with the stray but welcome American tune, Bonaparte’s Retreat. Light and dark, fleet-footed and somnolent in fair measure.
- Siobhan Long,
The Irish Times

 

Those who know Shetlander Kevin Henderson’s work with Fiddlers’ Bid will not be surprised that he’s found two partners in his adopted Scandinavian home whose fiddling blends with his own like beautifully judged voices.

Olav Luksengard Mjelva and Anders Hall bring, respectively, Hardanger and octave fiddles plus standard fiddle and viola to the trio’s armoury, and the result is not just the singing quality they achieve but a rich group sound that suggests occasional bassoon and harmonium on tunes that are by turns fleet fingered, atmospheric, gracefully keening and gleefully conspiratorial.

It’s high class all the way but the boogie-woogie and ragtime-like flavours of Hall’s plattgympa (a type of polka) for a friend’s 27th birthday stand out as a particularly apt link to Midnight On The Water’s American spiritualism.

The laughter that follows Henderson’s tribute to fellow Shetlander Jenna Reid confirms that, as well as playing with consummate skill, these guys are having way too much fun.
- Rob Adams, The Herald

 

Not just for fiddle heads, the dense, rich harmony and pulsing cross-rhythms of this trio are endlessly varied, powerful and beautiful.
Sweden’s Anders plays viola and fiddle, Shetlander Kevin sticks to the fiddle, while Norway’s Olav handles octave fiddle and the resonant stringed Hardanger fiddle, together producing a shimmering display of accurately pitched, highly skilled musical accomplishment.
- Norman Chalmers, The Scotsman

 

I’ve often said that if there was a fiddle war, Shetland would be a world super power. Recently I’ve found myself regularly saying ‘there’s some great music coming out of Scandinavia at the moment.’
The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc takes both of those statements and hurls them together in a shinty trophy breaking moment of horsehair bow goodness.

This self titled album brings together Norway’s Olav Luksengard (Hardanger and Octave fiddles), Anders Hall from Sweden(fiddle and viola) and Shetland’s Kevin Henderson (fiddle) for a genuine fiddler’s power house.
They even manage to name check another Shetland fiddle player along the way, “Jenna Reid Of Quarff” but she only gets the song named after her on the album, she doesn’t get to play a note.

Whilst other fiddle bands are available, they’ve tended to concentrate on music from the top parts of the British Isles and Ireland and to be honest, though that trend has definitely been spreading east.

As for the album it’s self it draws on traditional songs from the homelands of all the musicians on the album and mixes them in with contemporary songs, mainly from other fiddlers of the band’s acquaintance.

The thing I like about “The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc” is their use of tone across the album, light and jaunty tunes are mixed with darker ones to provide plenty of variety.
I think it’s more important for this to happen on an instrumental album than one with words, particularly if you’re trying to reach a wider audience that enjoy fiddle music, but may not have quite the expertise to understand the vagaries between tunes too close in nature. If that makes the album sound a bit like a compromise, fear not, it’s more a stylistic masterclass.

One of the things I like about instrumental albums is the way tunes are named, there seems to be far more dedications to events in people’s lives and the places in tune titles than in songs, as well as a tendency to be a bit more light-hearted where a song warrants it.

As you can probably tell, I like this, I like this a lot. “The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc” would make a more than welcome addition to any folk collection and who knows a great starting place if you haven’t got a collection yet.
- Neil King, FATEA

 

Comprising Olav Luksengård Mjelva (from Norway), Anders Hall (from Sweden) and Kevin Henderson (from Shetland), Scottish music enthusiasts will of course know the latter from his membership of no less than three distinguished ensembles – Fiddlers’ Bid, Session A9 and Boys Of The Lough – but Mjelva and Hall are likely to be more of an unknown quantity to all but those familiar with Scandinavian folk music.

Fear not – for the music they produce together is suitably invigorating, fresh-toned and full of dynamic and textural variety – more so than you’d imagine for a lineup that boils down to just three fiddle players. Part of the essential contrast lies in the actual instruments played: Henderson and Hall’s own fiddles being complemented by the wonderfully plangent sound of Mjelva’s Hardanger fiddle, with Mjelva’s octave fiddle and Hall’s viola providing aromatic alternative supporting soundings. Even so, it might still take the average listener a few tracks to get used to the very special but refined blend of three fiddles. Once accustomed, however, there really is so much to delight in that the lack of other instruments’ timbres is neither deficiency nor disadvantage.

Interestingly enough, the whole project was the brainchild of Hall, who felt that the act of combining the rich and distinctive fiddle styles and traditions of their respective countries would create a unique musical experience. He was of course right – the other integral element in this experience being the breadth of repertoire which the three have brought to their stage, a repertoire which forges links between historical traditions while bringing them alive and presenting them in a lively, accessible and above all genuinely exciting fashion while remaining true to those traditions and their roots.

Highpoints? – the exhilaration that pours from your speakers on Halling From Trondheim, the somewhat-rock’n’roll of Hall’s own composition, Maria’s 27th Birthday Plattgympa, and the steaming ostinatos of Charlie McKerron’s Paella Grande, all of which are keenly counterbalanced by the stately, beautiful Fjellvåk (Mountain Bird), almost unbelievably the product of a late-night jam session in Norway, and a pleasing treatment of Luke Thomasson’s reliable session staple Midnight On The Water, here coupled to Bonaparte’s Retreat.

This, the Bloc’s debut recording, was released in Scandinavia last year to critical acclaim, and it’s great to see it reach these shores now courtesy of a good distribution arrangement through Discovery Records.
- David Kidman, netrhythms.com

 

A feast of fiddling from Norway, Sweden and Shetland, places with well established and well connected fiddle traditions, this album seeks to bring these connections alive and showcase them in a new and exciting way. And it does what it says on the tin.

The trio (Olav Luksengård Mjelva, Anders Hall and Kevin Henderson) between them play fiddles, viola, hardanger and octave fiddle, and these tools are all they require to produce a sound that is at times dainty and refined, almost chamber music like, and at other times gutsy and powerful.

Shetland reels, Swedish polskas and Norwegian hallings (I didn’t know either – wedding dances!) sit side by side, and though very different, blend well together. The boys make clever use of harmony, diverse tones, textures and volumes, and the album is full of pleasant surprises – the arrangements at times not quite going where you expect them to, but always in a good way.

Some well know tunes like Da Greenland Mans Tune, Midnight On The Water (the connection being it was learnt from a Shetlander, Aly Bain), Da Full Rigged Ship and Da New Rigged Ship sit alongside tunes which are new to me from Sweden and Norway, and among them are some real gems. Seek it out.
- Fiona Heywood, Living Tradition