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Frode Haltli - Border Woods [Hubro - 2019]

Border Woods sees the welcome return of respected & versatile Norwegian accordionist and bandleader Frode Haltli. This new six-track album sees Haltli embracing both traditional & buoyant folk-to-ethnic melodies, as well as more playful & angular moments, through to acoustic set dark ambience- so it really does feel like a sonic trip into the woods, that shifts from forbidding & creepy, onto brighter, playful & inspired, back to darker more angular territories.

The album appears on Norwegian label Hubro- coming as either a CD or vinyl release. We’re reviewing the CD version of the release, this comes in the form of a mini gatefold sleeve, and on its front cover we have a wonderfully moody photo of fog hazed forests, and on the inside we find black leaf silhouettes against a dark green backdrop. So all in all a mood fitting & nicely done bit of album design.
 
The releases line up takes in Frode Haltli on accordion, & he’s joined by Emilia Amper on Nyckelharpa( a Swedish keyed fiddle or Key harp), with Håkon Stene and Eirik Raude on percussion. The album features six tracks that run between two and fifteen minutes- so we certainly get a nice blend of shorter mood making works, and lengthier more shifting compositions.
 
The album opens “Wind Through Aspen Leaves” this starts things off in darker sonic waters, as we get a brooding-yet-rising blend of cascading cymbal ring & reverb- which is edged by hovering & malevolent blends grim accordion play, and swirling-yet-moodily piecing Nyckelharpa tones. The mood very much shifts on the next track “Mostamägg Polska” where we find an intricately darting and rich composition with the accordion & Nyckelharpa to the fore, with light and gentle  touches of vibe & percussive elements. This is the longest track here at just shy of the sixteen mark, and it finds a shifting series of musical melodies- to begin with, we get a grand & forthright Yiddish like jig theme, before switching to a more joyful & sprightly folk melody. As the track progresses the two harmonic lines start to cross, blend, and mingle with each other- at times the sound picture gets quite busy & muddled, at others the separate melodies stand nearly alone, or the pace slows & lulls as each weave of the separate melody unwinds- before in the last three or so minutes diving back into more uneasy & gloomy ambeince. It’s certainly booth a spellbinding & at times head-spinning track- that at moments has an organically psychedelic quality to it.
 
The remaining of the record sees the trio move from the quirky & layered ethnic percussion of "Wood and Stone". Onto mournful & simmering gracefulness of "Taneli’s Lament( Sorrow Comes To Us all)", through to the slurred-to- jigging folky harmonics of "Valkola Schottis", ending back in more unsettling & angular place with "Quitely The Language Dies"- which brings together waving to sustained keys, with brooding & dramatic string swoons.
 
As an album Border Woods is certainly a varied and shifting sonic adventure into the forest- as with the compositions, Haltli blends together different ethnic and folk flavors, with darker-to-brighter & more playful settings. If your after a record that keeps you on your genre toes, then Border Woods will most certainly fit the bill- yet it never becomes too showy, or cocky with the player's fluid yet honest playing keeping the whole thing both grounded & charming.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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