Nils Økland’s Glødetrådar

cover art for GlødetrådarFor some reason I didn’t get around to reviewing this lovely album when it came out, and have had some sort of mental block against it ever since. There’s some confusion about its release date – one streaming service says it came out in October 2021, another in February 2022. Either way I missed the boat, but in retrospective it’s one of my favorite albums of … I’ll say 2022. Which is hardly a surprise since I’m such a total Nils Økland fanboy.

Hardanger fiddler Nils Økland is a prolific musician with several solo albums on the labels ECM and Rune Grammofon. In addition, he plays in the psychedelic drone rock band Lumen Drones with Per Steinar Lie and Ørjan Haaland, which has a couple of critically successful albums on Hubro and his own label. And his two recordings leading the Nils Økland Band, Kjølvatn and Lysning both won top awards in Norway and critical acclaim everywhere. And he has played with some orchestras and written music for London Sinfonietta, films, ballet and theatre, and collaborated on numerous other Norwegian musicians’ albums.

The music on Glødetrådar, which translates roughly as “The Glimmering Light,” was commissioned for the 2016 Vossa Jazz festival. So far Kjølvatn remains my favorite of Økland’s recordings, but Glødetrådar is maybe running a close second. The Hardanger or hardingfele has become one of my favorite instruments to listen to in the past few years. Its second set of strings give it a warm, complex, resonant sound, and a creative player like Økland can draw a wide range of voices from it.

All of the musicians on this album have collaborated with Økland over the years, but this is the first project this entire ensemble has played on together. In addition to Per Steinar Lie and Ørjan Haaland from Lumen Drones, here we have Sigbjørn Apeland (harmonium, Fender Rhodes, and prepared piano), Håkon Mørch Stene (percussion and vibraphone), Mats Eilertsen (upright bass) and Rolf-Erik Nystrøm (saxophones). Also on this album, his brother Torbjørn Økland, with whom he has played since they were young boys, plays trumpet and mandolin.

The album has eight pieces with a certain amount of variety among them. They range in length from more than eight minutes to barely two, from full ensemble to just a few players, and one even has vocals from the entire ensemble. All of the works were developed by the ensemble from sketches or frameworks laid down by Økland.

The first track the slow and stately “Blankt Vatn (Shiny Water)” serves as an introduction, slow and stately, almost like a rubato intro to a longer jazz or classical work. What it leads to is the episodic track “Rull (Roll).” It too begins slow with a lovely folk dance-based melody on the fiddle, accompanied by occasional contributions by horns, guitar, etc., and a bass solo from Eilertsen. Behind the tune from the beginning, though, is a soft but insistent bass drum thudding like a heartbeat. That heartbeat grows in volume and pulls other instruments like electric guitar and harmonium with it, until the piece leaps into a whirling dervish of folk dance crossed with free jazz and noise. It abruptly drops back to the original pace and volume, the Hardanger repeating the lilting melody with backing from the ensemble.

On a couple of pieces Økland trades in the Hardanger for a viola d’amore, though I’m not sure whether it’s a seven- or a nine-string model. On the pensive folk hymn in waltz time, “Vals,” Økland plays a duet with Eilertsen’s bowed bass, with tons of atmosphere provided by softly played horns, percussion and more. Apeland takes a verse on accordion, and Torbjørn Økland another on mandolin – it’s all very stately and gentle. Likewise “Linja,” a similarly complex and stately melody played as a duet on fiddle and flute with full atmospheric backing.

He plays the viola again on “Sjanti,” which to me resembles a slow, end-of-day sea shanty, especially when the final verse is wordlessly sung by all the men together – quite moving. Another highlight is “Glødetråd (Filament),” which very explicitly weds a Nordic dance tune to jazz rock fusion – the complex rhythm of the melody played out over an arrangement of electric guitar, Fender Rhodes, Eilertsen’s double-time waking bass line, and by the end drummer Haaland absolutely pummeling his kit and the horns wailing like a herd of disturbed pachyderms.

Glødetrådar is exactly the kind of album that I look for from Nils Økland. It’s brimming with creativity and musical ideas, and it expertly combines ancient sounding folk melodies and dance rhythms with modern jazz and improvisation techniques. Add to that a team of players who listen deeply to each other and care only about contributing to the work at hand, and you have a moving and lasting work of art.

(Hubro, 2021)

Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

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