Frode Haltli accordion
Arve Henriksen trumpet
Garth Knox viola
Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje voice
Recorded December 2004 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Accordionist Frode Haltli mesmerized with his first contemporary program, Looking on Darkness, for ECM. Now, he furthers the journey with a chamber album of folk music from his native Norway. Although classically trained, Haltli has subsisted on roots since his formative years at the bellows, and over time has breathed new life into every tune.Accordingly, if not accordionly, the album’s centerpiece is a waltz from his home village of Våler i Solør in southeastern Norway. Here it takes three forms. The first two—“Per” and “Lyrisk vals” (Lyrical Waltz)—are games of tag between Haltli and violist Garth Knox, each a shade of the same ghost. Singer-composer Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje, whose Gagaku Variations formed the most memorable portion of Looking on Darkness, joins the duo for the final incarnation: the title piece. If the music until his point has been drawn in charcoal, here the medium is pen and ink. Its starker lines profess Haltli’s understanding of breath—not simply because his instrument is itself an artificial lung, but because it shares the body of its performer, expanding beyond human ken into warbling bird soul.
Dovetailing these musicians is trumpeter Arve Henriksen, whose poetry whispers gold into the alchemy of “Psalm.” The album’s gateway plants a dream within a dream, and from it a fragrance of hope wafts to the four corners of the compass. Both this track and “Vandring” make tasteful use of the accordion’s pitch-bending capabilities, thereby undercutting sharpened highs with lilting accents and intimations of children’s games.
Remarkable about Passing Images is the vastness evoked by its modest congregation. From histrionic wanderings (“Inter,” “Lude”) to less hallucinatory swaths of stagecraft (“The Letter,” “Vals”), the musicians travel between inner and outer worlds with ease, melting gestures down drains of progression. As of the folk song “Jag haver ingen kärare,” every melody is first unspooled and second re-spun, by which time the light has only moments to learn its dance before shining into your ear.