Nils Økland Hardanger fiddle, violin, viola d’amore
Recorded July 2007, Olavskirken, Avaldsnes (Norway)
Engineer: Audun Strype
Executive producer: Manfred Eicher
From the caverns of Christian Wallumrød’s Sofienberg Variations and A Year From Easter, Norwegian violinist Nils Økland emerges with his first ECM leader date, a solo album of fully original design and character. The composing may be his own, but like the playing it has roots in many times and places. And yet, the album’s sense of the here and now trumps the need for reference and allows even those unfamiliar with Nordic fiddling traditions and their modern developments alike to appreciate the spirit of Økland’s craft in the raw. Sometimes bucolic, at others streamlined, it is always moving.
Monograph wears its title well. Over a 13-track traversal, its comprehensive program expounds on multiple combinations of string and bow. The Hardanger fiddle, a national instrument of Norway of which Økland plays three on the album, lends a sandy, hurdy-gurdy-like texture to five tunes. Between the urgent cycles of “Kvelartak” and the shifting harmonies of “Skimte,” the instrument sprouts a forest’s worth of leaves. Versatility reigns in between the dancing shadows of “Mono,” and the pliant highs of “Snor.” In each of these is the mineral taste of soil, chased by the cleanliness of air.
For the album’s three violin tracks, Økland plays a centuries-old instrument. “Rite” circumscribes the space in spirited dance, “Seg” sings in charcoal pigments, and the wing beats of “Nattsvermer” (the album’s closer) would seem to reference Paul Giger’s emotive solo work on ECM. Sounding almost improvised, it rests on a blade of poetry.
Rounding out are some pieces played on the resonant viola d’amore. Hints of Irish pasture braid Nordic currents in “Mønster,” vividly opening the disc. Similar geographical conversations abound in the syllogistic “Dialog,” while “Pas de deux” and “Ø” bring tender, even forlorn, images into frame, touching and separating like a dragonfly and its reflection.
All of which is to say that Monograph is ultimately more than a solo album. Økland’s sound is so rich, it sings in the voices of many with a talent surpassed by few.