Roadrunner Records - Slipknot's hard-hitting, aggressive metal anthems are getting…
- Posted on Jul 27th 2010 4:30PM by Steve Hochman
We're served a large platter of the stuff -- including some dipped in aquavit -- as well as an array of other local cheeses. That's Lunch No. 1. Then Carl (his son) takes us on a thrilling speedboat ride to Finnabotn, an isolated old farmhouse turned inn for a gourmet Lunch No. 2 of smoked wild salmon (put in the smoker the day before, just eight hours after it was caught nearby), prepared by Chef Alexander and served following a little tour around the grounds where he picks the native herbs for his concoctions.
Next Carl (the son, still) deposits us across the fjord at Hella, where we're picked up by Karl -- no relation but rather Norwegian saxophonist and global music explorer Karl Seglem, who was raised around here and knows every one of the crinkly bits around the inlets. Cruising along the fjord – not just the longest and deepest in the world but also the "best," we've been assured by several people – the genial host cues up 'The Ornes Song,' a track from his upcoming CD, 'Ossicles.' It's a dynamic combination of his tenor with West African ngoni, slippery bass, an array of percussion including steel pans, threading through it a tune drawn from Norwegian folk traditions on the national instrument, the hardanger fiddle, played by its modern master (and frequent Seglem collaborator) Håkon Høgemo.
"And here's the goat horn solo," Seglem alerts us, about a minute and a half into the track.
Yup. And quite well played at that. The custom tool's purposefully unvarnished sound swerves like the road we're on over increasingly intricate layers of overtones building from the other instruments, led by the hardanger's sympathetic drone strings and shimmering like, well, the water of the fjord to our right.
Karl Seglem, 'The Ornes Song'
In the morning we take a short ferry ride from the Walaker Hotell in the small town of Solvorn (having digested another gourmet meal that included a mussels-vanilla soup starter, a salad of tender deer meet and blue cheese, and fresh-as-possible halibut with a brown butter reduction) to the tiny village of Urnes – source of the track's title. We climb the road to the local church, the oldest stave church in the country ("stave" referring to the pine-trunk posts that are key to the entirely wooden structure having lasted for some 900 or so years). After a guide gave a small, detailed tour of the small, detailed church, Seglen steps toward the altar, begs the dozen or so people's pardon and pulls out the goat horn in question.
In 1998, he explains, right in this very spot he produced an album of a cappella (in the literal sense of the phrase) singing by local folk vocalist Berit Opheim Versto. The acoustics of this place are something special to him, not resonant like a stone church but natural and, well, woody. And with that he starts to play a haunting, enveloping tune, improvised yet tied to the scene in ways that speak of the centuries the church has seen. The visitors and guide alike quickly transform from surprised by the interruption and perplexed by the instrument to delighted and enraptured by the performance. Seglem then moves outside to play a little more and pose for the audience's cameras (no photos allowed inside, of course) against the intricately carved exterior.
A quick jog back down the hill so as not to miss the return ferry ensues, with just a quick stop to purchase a basket of fresh strawberries from a stand along the road. It's the honor system with no one working there to take money or make change, 25 kroner per basket, though we only have coin for 24 in our collective pockets – the honorable solution: "Next time, pay 26." Some claim Norway produces the best strawberries in the world, and the multiple samples we have on the quick boat ride make it hard to argue against that.
Back in the car, more 'Ossicles' tracks, the combinations of tones and rhythms ever-shifting, ever-shimmering. (Regarding the album title, Seglem asks, "Do you know where the tiniest bones in the body are? The ear. Those are the ossicles.")
Karl Seglem, 'Røsletre (Moving)'
We pick up sandwiches and head back along the fjord to another small town for a lunch visit with Lena Skjerdal at her home. We listen to her entrancing jazz trio CD, fittingly for us titled 'Home,' while eating the sandwiches and then a big bowl of strawberries even better than the ones from the roadside stand, all the while her six-year-old daughter, Liva, sings and hums cheerily as she eats, as she skips around, as she does just about everything, purely delightful. Kicking off the Seglem-produced album nicely is a surprising, seductive twist on Fleetwood Mac's 'Say Goodbye.' Most of the set, though, is original material, pairing her music to California-born/Norway-based poet Ren Powell's words – a little cabaret, a little modern jazz, perfect for the day, a little gray and drizzly as we look out the picture window across the fjord.
But two tracks veer off a bit: The second-half of 'Two Days Without You/October 13,' she explains, is from a traditional Norwegian song and is in fact the only thing on the album not in English. (A full Norwegian project is in the works – and we suggest that approach might give her a very distinctive edge in the world market.) The other song? 'The Home,' a bonus recorded right here in this house a few years back, with younger Liva's chatter alongside her mom's playful piano and singing.
From there back in the car, including a car ferry ride, to Balestrand, meeting up the the group of journalists, promoters and world music marketers touring the area on the way to the Førde Folk Music Festival which starts the next day. In this charming spot, Seglem in a few hours makes his second church performance of the day, this time in duet with Høgemo in the St. Olaf's English Church, another ornate wooden structure, though not quite as old as the Urnes edifice.
The concert itself focuses the concept, a Seglem goat-horn invocation followed by the pair (Seglem switching to tenor sax) taking folk and folk-inspired melodies and stretching them, reshaping them, the music playing off the late-evening summer light coming through the stained glass.
Three days later to the north in Førde, it was late-evening summer rain that set the mood at the Førde Church, a more austere setting than the Ornes and Balestrand chapels. Inside, dimmed electric lighting and flickering candles accented the somber minimalism of the relatively plain, painted walls. Only the elaborate, though unpainted wooden altar gave any hint of showiness. It was in front of this altar that Seglem and Versto reconvened, this time to perform a hypnotic interpretation of a classic Norwegian epic poem 'Draumkvedet,' and helping anchor a very strong Norwegian core in the vast international array of artists on the festival roster.
The story is of a man who falls asleep on Christmas Eve and doesn't wake until Twelfth Night, at which point he tells of the 13 dreams he had, visions of heaven and hell, 43 verses in all. The two recorded this for a 2009 two-CD release, the first disc being Versto a cappella again, the second with Seglem crafting largely ambient backing with goat horn and electronics. It's the latter approach they take this night, Versto's voice pure, clear, subdued, unspooling the tale (in Norwegian, of course) with direct solemnity. Seglem's horn at times previews or echoes the elongated melodies, at other times blends into the backdrop of sounds he cues from a laptop, redolent of wind and waves. Throughout, the 200 or so people congregated in the church are as contemplatively hushed as, yes, a contemplative church congregation.
The final notes feature Seglem, alone, the goat horn's sound becoming a sigh, a breath before fading out, the audience erupting in deep applause before heading out into the damp night, the sounds still in their head melting into the sounds of the rain falling on this hillside churchyard. Taste thoroughly acquired.