Per Gudmundson fiddle, octave fiddle, Swedish bagpipes, vocal
Ale Möller mandola, natural flutes, hammered dulcimer, folk harp, shawm, vocal
Lena Willemark vocal, fiddle, octave fiddle, wooden flute
Recorded September 1998 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
When I smile my face shines like
Sunlight glittering on the water’s surface,
But when I cry my face is like
A dark pine forest under a cloudy sky.
Frifot are Per Gudmundson, Ale Möller, and Lena Willemark, the holy trinity of Swedish folk revivalism. The name means “footloose,” a word that locates their effortless playing in a realm of dance. Much of that spirit comes through in the handful of diptychs scattered throughout this epic self-titled program. These embody layered juxtapositions of sonority and exposition, of comet and tail, rushing through eons at the touch of plectrum and bow. Of them, the intimate pairing of “I hela naturen / Mjukfoten” (In All Nature / Light-foot) is an album highlight, its Robin Williamsonian waves flowing into the mandola’s rich speech acts. “Silder” (Still Waters), an ode from Willemark’s pen, glitters by kindred harp light and reaches out through the lighter “Bingsjö stora långdans.” From the uplifting polskas of fiddle-hunter Sjungar Lars to the brooding shores of “Om stenen” (The Stone), one feels a tireless will at work. The latter’s text by Swedish poet Bengt Berg paints it true: “Listen to the sound of the sun sinking into the lake.”
Surrounding all this merrymaking is deeply considered soil that takes first nourishment in the a capella “Abba fader” (Abba Father), a song once preserved only in the memory of Baltic islanders whose Swedish ancestors emigrated to the Estonian coast during the Middle Ages. One hears earthen harmonies in the musicians’ voices, the gravel and scrape of time as it leaves its scars. A hammered dulcimer and rustic fiddle cradle “Stjärnan” (The Star), which evokes the miracle in Bethlehem, holding ancient vigil for those with a willing ear. “Tjugmyren” is composed of herding calls. The nasal, almost Bulgarian-sounding singing shows Willemark’s range of height and density. Calling through windswept grain, she plants her feet in the soil and grows where she stands. “Kolarpolskan” (The Charcoal-burner’s Polska) is another herding tune, this one more uplifting and with a bit of a Sephardic twist.
The listener hardly needs names to feel the stories. This is especially true in “Hemvändaren” (The Homecomer), which from hopeful beginnings spins a tale of bittersweet reunion and attempts to answer how one carries the hardships in the context of the resolution toward which they are endured. Another example of the album’s programmatic acuity is the agitated brushwork of “Fåfänglighet” (Vanity), while Gudmundson’s “Drömsken” (The Dreamer) evokes softer crosscurrents of instrumental expression. Yet another is “Skur Leja.” Written by Möller, it tells of a magically virtuous maiden whose purity puts not so virtuous men in their place and through its telling achieves a tense drama of flesh and intrigue. Other evocative standouts include “Metaren” (The Lazy Fisherman) and “Roligs Per-låtar,” a play on motives of itinerant fiddler and entertainer Roligs Per Persson.
As always, Willemark’s voice rings dependably through this cosmos with a palette like the very planet from which it springs: a swirl of blues, greens, and whites. The accompaniment is so much more than that, flapping as it does with all the conviction of a bird of prey even as it nestles, gentle as a lamb, in pasture. Notable also is the attention paid to selection and song order. Its flow runs deeper than a river in the thirstiest of land.