Ånon Egeland is a well-respected Norweigian musician who plays in the Scandinavian tradition. He has not only played with many well known and respected traditional musicians but also has an appreciative global audience that continues to grow. He plays traditional and Hardanger fiddles, the Jew’s harp (also called a Jaw’s harp) and willow flute. His music is firmly rooted in the Agder region of southern Norway. Ånon II, a long-awaited solo album, features twenty pieces of music that are something of a tribute to the older musicians who, in Ånon’s youth, gave him a firm grounding in these traditional styles. That said, this album is most certainly not simply a compendium or recreation of older styles. It has a contemporary feel and personal expression that will engage and challenge listeners, even those steeped in the Scandinavian traditions.
Ånon takes his music seriously. He uses instruments made from various materials and a diverse range of strings and tunings. Even the Jew’s harps are chosen with different tonic cores (in other words, they are effectively in different keys). He plays in a distinctive style using drone strings in conjunction with a technique that (to my ears) resembles the ‘double stopping’ that will be familiar to fans of other traditional folk and bluegrass fiddle styles.
The tunes here were recorded over an extended period in various locations, many of which were not in professional recording studios, which lends the collection the quality of a field recording, but that does not detract in any way from the listening experience and huge variety on offer.
The tunes range from the traditional sounding ‘Vals etter Torje Hallen’ (Waltz by Torje Hallen), which sounds familiar and pretty easy on the ear, as does ‘Fykerudens sofalur’ with its step-hop rhythm, to ‘Hei, du Kilands gubbe’ which has a slow, breathy quality that reminds me very much of the kind of slow air you might hear in the Shetland Isles. The Hardanger fiddle used on some of these tracks uses ‘sympathetic’ strings in addition to the usual four strings on a contemporary fiddle, giving the music a haunting feel that adds to the enjoyment of this music.
And then there is the Jew’s harp. There are three tracks on this album featuring solo tunes on this instrument. Yes, I did say ‘tunes’ because there are melodies here that are clear and precise and hugely enjoyable to listen to. In my experience, this instrument tends to be associated with jug band or bluegrass music and fulfils a predominantly rhythmic function. Still, these tunes are a different experience entirely. Listen to ‘Vegårsheiingen’ with its back porch foot-stomping accompaniment and a tune you could easily hum along to. Delightful!
Ånon II offers something unique in its contemporary musical expression and interpretation of these old tunes, and its strength lies in the communicative power of Ånon’s playing. This album will hopefully grant him some well-deserved wider exposure.
Anon ii is available now via Bandcamp: