On ECM Frode Haltli has been heard thus far as a brilliant interpreter of contemporary composed music – his New Series album “Looking on Darkness”, with music of Bent Sørensen, Magnus Lindberg, Maja Ratkje and others winning a Norwegian ‘Grammy’, the Spellemannpris, and the French Prix Gus Viseur. He has also been heard as an improviser on recordings with Trygve Seim – in Seim’s large ensemble on “Sangam” and as guest with post-free jazz collective The Source (see “The Source and Different Cikadas”).
On “Passing Images”, however, the Norwegian accordionist offers something quite different: a new reckoning with some of the music that first inspired him, and a decidedly untraditional view of the Norwegian folk tradition. Here we find, for instance, a psalm from the western fjords, a lyrical waltz from Haltli’s home village near the Swedish border, a Roma traveller tune that mysteriously evokes Albert Ayler’s sound-world, and much more.
Under the tutelage of Erik Bergene, Frode Haltli came to contemporary music early, but simultaneously, and with enthusiasm, began playing folk music in his local village community. At 13 he was the youngest member of a traditional dance band. The songs he learned then subsequently remained part of his musical frame of reference.
“‘Pre’, ‘Lyrisk vals’ and ‘Passing Images’ are all from the same source. I grew up in Våler i Solør in south-eastern Norway. Long after I moved from my home village I heard a recording of the local fiddler Gustav Kåterud (1882-1941), and both his technique and the recording quality was so blurred, but still extremely interesting in its dualistic tonality and waltz-like tempo that it soon triggered the imagination to find possible ways to blow new life into it. The first result ‘Lyrisk vals,’ (‘Lyrical Waltz’) has been with me some years as a more or less improvised piece for solo accordion. For this CD I made a new version and added viola and trumpet. I also made a shorter composition, ‘Pre’ for accordion and viola, taking the music even further out of the woods. ‘Passing Images’, with the under-title waltz is originally a piece for solo accordion by Maja S.K. Ratkje composed in 2003 with ‘Lyrisk vals’ in her memory.”
Norwegian journalist Erland Kiøsterud has written that “each time Haltli improvises on Gustav Kåterud's ‘Lyrical Waltz’ it is in a slightly new version. With a completely modern feeling for time, we don't know if we are listening to traditional music or modern, cornfields billowing in the wind or waves of big city conversation, we are taken into a meditative, almost sacred holy place, as complex as it is simple, the sounds thrill with collective life and moods, genre boundaries are broken down; with his playing Haltli raises this waltz to a sphere entirely its own, a new musical dimension is created.” This is surely true here, the uniquely constituted personnel of the group, specially assembled for this recording, offering a kaleidoscopic view of traditional music, its perspectives continually shifting...
Frode Haltli studied at the Norwegian State Academy of Music and the Royal Danish Conservatory. He ended his studies in 2000 and currently lives near Oslo. His current projects include a duo with Trygve Seim, the trio Poing which plays contemporary music, and the group Rusk, focusing on folk music.
Improviser Arve Henriksen is a musician Haltli has often worked with, in Trygve Seim’s ensembles and elsewhere. A jazz musician forever looking beyond ‘jazz’, absorbing sonorities from music of the east – the duduk, the bansuri, the shakuhachi – and allowing them to influence his liquid, vocal trumpet sound. A versatile musician, too – equally at home in the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble playing quiet and concentrated baroque-inspired music, or amid the electronic soundscapes of Supersilent.
From 1978 Garth Knox was active as a freelance player in London, working with the London Sinfonietta, the Ballet Rambert, the English Chamber Orchestra and many others. In 1980 Hans Werner Henze wrote a viola sonata for him; in 1983 Boulez invited him to join the Ensemble Intercontemporain. After a seven-year sojourn in Paris with Boulez, Knox returned to the UK to join the Arditti Quartet in 1990. With the Arditti he recorded string quartets of Peter Ruzicka for ECM. Since 1998 the Scottish/Irish violist has spread his net more widely – as a solo player (his Montaigne-recording of compositions of Kurtág, Ligeti, Berio etc. won a Deutscher Schallplattenpreis) and, for instance, in duo recitals with Kim Kaskashian and Tabea Zimmermann. In 1999 he played at the ECM Festival in Badenweiler with Kashkashian.
Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje is a composer and performer, active as singer and electronics player and engineer, often in connection with free improvisation ensemble Spunk and the noise duo Fe-mail. Her “Gagaku Variations” had a central position on Frode’s debut “Looking on Darkness”. Her works have been performed by the Oslo Sinfonietta, the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Arve Tellefsen, the Cikada and Vertavo String quartets, Quatuor Renoir, among many others. In 2003, she played a leading part in her own opera, based on the texts from the Nag Hammadi Library. Her compositions have received a number of awards including the Norwegian Edward Award for Composition of the Year and the Arne Nordheim Prize.
The press on Frode Haltli’s “Looking On Darkness”:
“The young Norwegian accordionist Frode Haltli is clearly a performer of gifts and imagination, whose astonishing virtuosity has inspired many Scandinavian composers. This stimulating ECM release showcases his prowess in a cross-section of works especially written for him. The accordion’s sheer adaptability, its capacity for violence and delicacy, massive sonorities and fleeting, elusive ones, makes it an attractive medium for contemporary music. It can be a metallic organ, a reed pipe, a clicking percussion instrument and much else besides, while always remaining essentially itself. All these pieces explore this enormous sonoristic range while contriving to establish their composer's individual characters. ... This is certainly an intriguing and enjoyable collection of contemporary Scandinavian music, stunningly well recorded by ECM.
Cahum MacDonald, International Record Review
“The accordion has never – well, hardly ever – had it so good. But forget Piazzolla and banish thoughts of the tango: this debut solo disc from the Norwegian virtuoso Frode Haltli presents five challenging new works which explore the furthest sonic regions of the instrument. This is all high-latitude music... You’ll need to pace yourself for the 24-minute Gagaku Variations at the heart of this disc. A trip to Japan inspired Maja Ratkje to a work which fuses the energies and sonorities of the accordion and the string quartet to unpredictable and revelatory effect.”
Hilary Finch, BBC Music Magazine
“Frode Haltli’s first solo recording is more than a collection of superb interpretations of pieces by prominent Nordic composers... This is a fearless, searching and exceptional debut.”
Astrid Kvalbein, Verdens Gang