Olav L. Mjelva Hugnad
Review by Mike Adcock
Olav Luksengård Mjelva is a Norwegian fiddler whose second album Hugnad features almost exclusively his own compositions. The CD comes with a booklet illustrated with colour photographs and containing short notes in Norwegian and English on each of the tracks. Mjelva is from Røros in the east of Norway, close to the Swedish border, an area known for its standard fiddle tradition. However, following in the footsteps of celebrated fiddle-player and authority on Norwegian folk music Sven Nyhus, who also came from there, Mjelva has embraced styles from a wider area of the country, playing both standard fiddle and the Hardanger variety with its added sympathetic under strings.
The title track and opening track is a halling, the energetic courting dance traditionally performed by two rival male suitors. As with the dance the track begins with a moment of intended hesitancy, a musical limbering up before things gather pace and really kick off, which in the dance means literally kicking a hat off a stick being held high by the young lady in question.
"Love Boat" (excerpt)
Several of the tunes featured here have been recorded previously by Mjelva in collaboration with other musicians, which took them in a new direction, but on Hugnad he has chosen to revisit them, rediscovering their origins as solo pieces. Although the material is predominantly original it draws heavily on Norwegian stylistic traditions and this means it is sometimes structurally quite different from other western European folk music. This can make some Hardanger fiddle music somewhat elusive and hard to follow for the uninitiated but Mjelva's compositions have a clarity which, combined with the lucidity of his playing, allows us to engage immediately. They are not by any means all dance tunes either. “Love Boat” is a slower example and more akin to the tradition of “listening tunes," but with something of a Celtic feel to it. Mjelva writes that the tune was not inspired by the TV series which he used to enjoy watching but that he just liked the title.
Hugnad is essentially a solo album but Mjelva has brought in some musical friends for support on some tracks - Ronny Kjøsen on accordion, Jonas Østbyhaug, double bass and Adam Johansson, guitar. Their contribution, however, is kept to a minimum, giving reinforcement and tonal variety when appropriate as on "CPAP," unaccountably dedicated to a friend who snores. Am I the only one who didn't know that the title stands for Continuous Positive Airways Pressure therapy? It's a good tune anyway and another one showing that while Norwegian music remains his principal reference point Mjelva is taking in influences from elsewhere, working with musicians from Shetland having been an important connection here.
"The Five Minute Swing" (excerpt)
The big surprise of the album comes with the last track. Following a trio of solo fiddle tunes we hear a chuckle and with a complete change of mood from everything that's gone before we're swept into The Five Minute Swing. Ok, it's not actually much more than a couple of minutes long, but who's counting? This really is an ensemble piece and swing is definitely the word, with more than just a touch of western swing about it. There are tasty improvised breaks from fiddle and accordion, and the whole thing cooks. It's a bit like watching a TV series when the final episode suddenly presents a new twist, opening up new possibilities of what might happen if they should commission a new series. If that's the case here I can't wait.