Nils Økland is apparently one of the most accomplished players of the Hardanger fiddle (an elaborate, hand-carved instrument known for its overtones) in Norway. Although it's instrument that has been intertwined with Norwegian folk music for roughly four centuries now, Økland is like so many other inventive Scandanavian artists in that he refuses to let an genre boundaries or expectations define his music. On Bris, his third album, he is joined by Sigbjørn Apeland on harmonium, Mats Eilertsen (Food) on bass, and Per Oddvar Johansen and Håkon Stene on percussion.
Composed for a play about the life of 19th Centruy Romantic painter Lars Hertervik, Bris is a release that has one foot solidly in traditional folk fiddling while at the other time stepping forward into new musical forms that dips into several different other genres while still maintaining an understated beauty. In fact, the first couple tracks on Bris are almost completely dedicated to the one instrument as "Grålys," "Håstabø," and "Myrkjeblått" feel almost like a trilogy as the first track opens with more contemplative tones while the second quickens the step ever-so-slightly before the third is much more mystical in its melodies.
The album starts to pick up even more after those first three tracks as different collaborators mark their entries. "Slør" features some loose, textural percussion that sounds like loose silverware jangling around while "Blond Blå" fills things out even more with bowed bass and some subtle drumming that adds a lot to the mix despite keeping things very simple. "Notten" picks things up even more with downright joyous fiddle melodies and some percussion that puts a bit of skip into the step as it shuffles along underneath.
On the other side of things is the track "Flyt," in which harmonium and bass drones threaten to overtake the track while the fiddle melodies seem to shift and skirt as if they're trying to stay just out of arms reach before finally giving way to a wearing close. The twelve tracks and forty-five minutes of music on the album are varied without feeling scattered and show the wide range of the instrument and the emotive playing of Økland. Although Bris is by no means as loud as most work from the Dirty Three, I think fans of that group will definitely find pieces to enjoy in this release.