Nils Økland is perhaps the most significant folk musician playing in Norway today. His instrument is the traditional Hardanger fiddle but he approaches it in a completely new way. For instance, he uses tunings for the instrument that have never been part of traditional music. He also sometimes mixes folk with jazz, classical and improvised music, and has worked with many musicians outside the folk world. He plays on Christian WallumrÃ¸d Ensemble’s A Year From Easter, for example, and he will be heard on Salvatore‘s soon-to-be-released next album.
His sophistication does not interfere with the pure simplicity of the sound, however. All the music is played acoustically, with beautiful natural reverb, always recorded in churches.
I’ve seen him play live twice. The first time was at St Martin’s-in-the-fields, the church by Trafalgar Square in London, when he played with other Norwegian musicians at the annual Norwegian Christmas Concert. The other time was also in London, at the Spitz music venue at Spitalfields Market, where he played with an English musician. I’d really like to see him play a solo show in a small room, and maybe this is something I’ll get to experience in Norway.
BlÃ¥ Harding (1996). His debut album leaves no stone unturned, with melodies giving way to unexpected forays into contemporary music.
Straum (2000). This was the first album of his I heard, and I was captivated immediately, from those gentle, quiet scraping string sounds at the beginning. The second song, ReiseslÃ¥tt, has a strange kind of beauty, a melody that could be happy, could be sad, but for the life of me I can’t tell which. Does a field of grass, or a river, make you happy or sad? The question is like that.
Bris (2004) (pictured above) departed from one of the norms in the folk genre by containing no traditional tunes; it consists entirely of self-penned pieces. It was described as “austere, evocative and very contemplative” by BBC Music Magazine, and “devastatingly beautiful” by The Wire. They have it about right.
Straum and Bris are released by, and can be bought from, Rune Grammofon.
BlÃ¥ Harding was released by a label called Morild and does not seem to be available to buy online. Unlike the other two albums, it does not have a Kim Hiørthoy-designed sleeve; it has a painting by Ivar Rudi.