We have a record store here in Portland called Music Millennium. They’ve been here since 1969 and they sell just about anything you’d like when it comes to recorded music. Records and CD’s are all over the place in small rooms, large rooms, up flights of stairs, up more stairs, in bins, boxes, wall racks, and so forth. If you want it, they probably have it.
So, a few months ago, when I became fascinated with contemporary Scandinavian/Nordic folk music, I went there to see what I could find.
I walked in and strolled through two rooms of used records – mostly rock. Went through a small door into another room of records – jazz, soundtracks, funk, metal, and so forth. Then I entered a larger room filled with CD’s – classical, blues, jazz, and country. I entered another large room with more CD’s – soul, pop, R&B, and so forth. I walked up some stairs to an area of new records, then up through an almost hidden staircase to a mezzanine that hugged the walls above the room below. Here were CD’s and records of blues and international music. I walked around a large rack of CD’s to the back side, and in the lower left hand corner of the bin I found what I was looking for –CD’s under the label, “Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Miscellaneous.” I saw about five CD’s with titles like “Folk Songs of Norway” and “Traditional Swedish Folk Music”.
That was it.
And that’s what brings me to what I’ve found in Nordic music. This music is great. The players and groups I’m going to introduce to you play traditional instruments, but they don’t hold back by treating the tradition as inflexible and safe. They push the boundaries. They explore the music and make it sing. They take risks.
So let me introduce you to what I’ve found. I do this knowing some of you probably know about these musicians. I’m one of those people who discover things long after everyone else considered it passé. Want an example? I started listening to Bruce Springsteen in the late 80’s. It seems he’d been around for over a decade, but I missed it. In my defense, I was busy raising kids and listening to songs from Sesame Street.
Anyway, here is a short list of some imaginative Nordic music for you to check out.
1. Danish String Quartet –Now, these guys have been around for a while playing classical music, but they put out two CD’s of Scandinavian folk music arranged for string quartet, and the results are fascinating.
2. Dreamer’s Circus – One of the members of the Danish String Quartet, Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, participates in Dreamer’s Circus. They will be playing in Portland this April and I’m excited to attend the show.
3. Trolska Polska – I have no idea who they are, but I love the music.
4. Våsen – They’ve been around for years. When I lived in Minneapolis they’d play every year at the Cedar Cultural Center, just 15 minutes from my house. I never went! It’s amazing what can be happening right around the corner and I never knew.
5. Nordic – Great group. Awful name. It’s like being some American/Canadian group and calling themselves something like The Band. It’ll never sell. right? Too generic, right? For the life of me, I can’t find their music anywhere except on YouTube.
6. Annbjørg Lien & Roger Tallroth – These people are like Tina Turner and Mick Jagger in the Nordic folk world. Who knew?
7. Gjermund Larsen Trio – This is just great stuff.
So, there is a small sample of some amazing music. I’m not an expert in any of this. At this point I’m like a kid in a candy store. It’s all new flavors and textures. Do you have any suggestions of who else is out there? I’m sure I’ve just scratched the surface, and I’d really like to know other Nordic musicians.
Plus, it’s perfect music to get all of us through these late winter snowstorms as we drift into spring.
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