December 17, 2001
As the canon of improvised music expands and brushes up against the sounds created within the confines of so-called ethnic communities, its becoming apparent that some techniques we think of as experimental or far-out are accepted as everyday in these societies.
Take the roots sounds created by the Norwegian trio akku, which is made up of the voices of Ruth Wilhelmine Meyer and Elfi Sverdrup and the voice and tuba playing of Lars Andreas Haug. Committed to the sounds and musical traditions of the Northern part of the world, the three include and adapt fragments of historic melodies from the Inuit people and from such countries as their own, Greenland, Scotland and (oddly enough) Bali.
Interestingly, proving the quirky universality of some methodologies, the vocal techniques utilized by the two women closely resemble those used by other traditional singers who have recorded with improvisers. For instance you can compare them to Tuvan Sainko Namtchylak, who has duetted with Evan Parker, and Sicilian Mariam Palma who was one-third of the Terra Arsa group.
It may help, of course, that the instrumentalist here — similar to what saxophonists Parker does with Namtchylak or Gianni Gebbia with Terra Arsa — is malleable enough to find a place for improv effects within the folk process. Haug, who has performed at many Scandinavian jazz festivals, regularly plays with other vocalists as well as in other bands that feature saxophone and trumpet.
Not only do throat, lip and tongue sounds here reference vocal creations from other folkloric areas, but at times, on Budeiesull for instance, soloist Sverdrup appears to be singing an Eastern European, Yiddish language air.
Dont forget that mouths were the original instruments. For instance, Hjondo, based on a song from the Hebrides where wives ask the seals to send their husband back from the hunt, begins with a soprano lead and tuba percussion. Soon, however, Sverdrups basso profundo begins to mirror the helicons tone, to be quickly succeeded by the tubaist vocalizing and vibrating his valves in sympathy with the voices. Kudjang — which goes far beyond miscegenation — is a Balinese love song for humans and frogs and which leads you wonder whether valves or voices have created some of the music. Surely those frog which appear to be baa-ing like sheep are mouth products, while the deep toad-like sounds must come courtesy of mouthpiece pressure.
Then there are those songs that suggest improv more than tradition. Abm II, for example has the women engaging in some Inuit throat singing, tossing phrases back and forth, faster and faster, while the tuba plays straight legato lines and then a lighthearted ditty. Velvety Abm I, on the other hand, feature unhurried vocals matched with ghostly echoes from the mega-horn. Or take Favolaije where Meyer ethereal soprano voice follows one line, Sverdrup primitive rumbling bass another, and Haug creates mouth percussion with steady jug band-like blasts from his instrument.
Throaty bird sounds characterize the Inuit-influenced Favolaije, which builds up to such an intensity of nonsense syllables that Sverdrup finally collapses into laughter.
Listening to this CD will easily persuade listeners that tweaking established vocal folk traditions will definitely one part of improvised musics future.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Hangawawahi 2. Hjondo 3. Atukutunga 4. Abm II 5. Favolaije 6. Sibin 7. Kudjang 8. Hngejo 9. Ih 10. Intermezzo 11. Monotone 12. Rottoto 13. Hejewa 14. Abm II 15. Budeiesull
Personnel: Ruth Wilhelmine Meyer, Elfi Sverdrup (voices); Lars Andreas Haug (tuba, voice)