Hard on the heels of Nils Økland’s critically-lauded collaboration with rock players Per Steinar Lie and Ørjan Haaland, here is a new album from Norway’s Hardanger fiddle master, introducing a new quartet. Kjølvatn makes a quieter musical proposal than Lumen Drones, but a richly creative one, with intensities of its own.
Once again, Nils’s music confers the authority of tradition, even as he creates new forms, drawing on a rich world of experience. “Over the years,” says Nils, “ I have moved between a wide range of genres from classical violin to Balkan folk, rock, jazz, free improvisation and Norwegian folk music.” I've always composed my own material inspired by all these expressions. In early baroque music - another musical style I let myself be inspired by - it was common to have sketches as the basis for making new music. In this band we work with methods influenced by this”.
Nils Økland was born in Haugesund in western Norway in 1961. He attended the Rogaland Music Conservatory and the Norwegian State Academy of Music, studying violin with Terje Tønnesen. He also studied Hardanger fiddle with Knut Hamre and Sigbjørn Bernhoft Osa. A scholarship brought him to the Budapest Academy, and in Amsterdam he studied the music of Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber with Jan Willem de Vriend. Økland was for six years musical director of the Ole Bull Academy in Voss, Norway. He has been a distinctive presence on ECM recordings in the 21st century. Recordings with Christian Wallumrød -Sofienberg Variations and A Year From Easter - gave early notice of the scope of his inventiveness. Since then, the solo album Monograph, as well as Lysøen - Hommage à Ole Bul and the drone-rock of Lumen Drones have all expanded the picture of one of Norway’s most resourceful musicians, broadened still further by Kjølvatn.
The musicians in Økland’s ensemble are well-known in diverse contexts across the idioms. Håkon Stene is a Norwegian contemporary classical percussionist of distinction, recently praised for his interpretations of the music of Gavin Bryars and Laurence Crane. Harmonium player Sigbjørn Apeland often operates at the interstices of Norwegian church and folk music and improvisation; he collaborated with Økland previously on Lysøen - Hommage à Ole Bul, a tribute to another far-sighted Norwegian innovator, and also works with Nils in a trio with singer Åsne Valland Norli. New music saxophonist Rolf–Erik Nylstrøm has played extensively with Frode Haltli in the trio Poing, been a soloist with the Oslo Philharmonic and worked closely with contemporary composers. And Mats Eilertsen’s elegant bass has been heard on ECM recordings with Tord Gustavsen, Trygve Seim, Wolfert Brederode and Jacob Young. Eilertsen, too, is a band leader in his own right (an ECM disc from his septet is in preparation).
On Kjølvatn most of the music is from Økland’s pen, but each band member contributes his unique perspective to the arrangements. The album was recorded at the Østre Toten stone church outside Lena, in Norway’s Oppland county. The church has long been noted for its excellent acoustics, also factored into the music-making here. The space’s natural resonance helps to bring out the details and subtleties of the writing and improvising and is responsive both to the floating, drone-based pieces (“Blå Harding”, for instance) and those with edgier dynamics (“Fivreld” or “Start”).
International release of Kjølvatn follows Norwegian release by three months. The album was rush-released in Norway in March, in time for a run of concerts in the North. Both album and live events were very positively received by the Norwegian press. Leading Norwegian daily paper Dagbladet spoke of “seductive tones from a magical landscape” and “music that is both physically present and vision-inducing”. Aftenposten praised the “interaction of a formidable band. The violins and fiddles of Økland have the central focus, but the other four musicians create the most enchanting settings and detours.”
For more information on Nils Økland’s projects and concerts visit his homepage: www.nilsokland.no