Ånon Egeland Ånon II
Taragot Sounds (www.taragot.com)
Review by Mike Adcock
As the title gives away, Ånon II is the second album that Norwegian fiddle-player Ånon Egeland has put out under his own name. The first was released over twenty years so it's probably about time, and in fact this is his first purely solo album, the previous one having musical support from two other musicians. Egeland is from the Agder region, to the south of Norway, which stretches down to the country's southern coast. Ånon II features both the regular four-string fiddle and the Hardanger variety with its underlying sympathetic strings and both types have long been played in Agder, though the Hardanger fiddle tends to be heard more in the areas where Agder borders with Telemark and with whom some of its tunes are shared.
The best known fiddle music from Agder comes from the valley of Setesdal, heard widely through the playing of Hallvard T. Bjørgum and before him his father Torleiv. The Setesdal repertoire tends to be dominated by the old dance tunes, in particular the driving rhythms of the gangar and the halling, and the album's opening track “Hjuringen” has that sound, with the foot stamping a strong and regular pulse underneath the tune. But on Ånon II Egeland demonstrates how beyond Setesdal the fylke (or county) of Agder has embraced a much wider range of dance styles. Arriving through its coastal ports, other dances including reels, polkas and waltzes proved popular, ensuring that they became established and disseminated more broadly, though in the more isolated areas, further to the north in Agder, the older styles continued relatively unadulterated. Yet even polkas take on a different quality when played by a good Norwegian fiddle-player.
"Polka etter Georg Brobakke"
Although the musical tradition in Agder has been largely confined to solo playing there has in recent times been a greater tendency towards collaboration and Ånon Egeland has himself recorded with various other musicians, from Agder and beyond. In choosing to make this a solo project he has worked well to ensure that there is enough variety here to sustain interest; a whole album of esoteric solo fiddle music can be a tough listen for the uninitiated. The variation comes through the contrasts in the dance music styles and also in the instrumentation. Not only does Egeland play both regular and Hardanger fiddles, but he uses more than one of each (three of the former, four of the latter!) By using different string types and a mixture of tunings he ensures that each track has a noticeably distinct tonal quality.
On three tracks Ånon Egeland puts his fiddles to one side all together in favour of a jaws harp (a different one for each piece.) This instrument has become particularly associated with Agder and there's evidence of them having been produced there for around a thousand years. Spending time with some jaws harp enthusiasts in Indonesia a few years ago I was assured that the best examples of the instrument are produced in Norway. Veiårsheiingen is a simple four bar tune with a second section almost identical. It may have been used for dancing (watching the floor full of couples dancing to a solo jaws harp player at the Telemark Festival is an enduring memory) but as nagging earworms go it's certainly one that could follow you around all day.
"Reinlender etter Gunnar Austegar"
Ånon II is currently only available digitally, but Taragot are planning to release it on CD later in the year. Ånon Egeland's sleeve note is good to have, but for the CD it would be useful to also be given a bit more information about the individual tracks. In his note Egeland writes that the album is a homage to the musicians who inspired and taught him and the generations before them that did the same, enabling the tradition to continue and flourish. He is carrying on that solo tradition, putting his own mark on it and producing a perfectly enjoyable album in the process.