Gris is a specialist in ethnic bowed strings, and since the demise of her band Waulk Elektrik in 2008 she's concentrated on other, primarily solo projects, releasing two fabulous solo albums (Harpaphonics and Radial) which explored the special sonic and expressive properties of the beautiful - and mighty - Swedish nyckelharpa (bowed, keyed fiddle). Radial, which appeared in mid-2015, concentrated less on the nyckelharpa itself than the possibilities of its interaction with ancillary instrumentation. Shortly after that album's release, in November of that year, Gris met Portuguese percussionist and wind player Ricardo de Noronha on stage, and they quickly struck up a rapport, discovering not only similar musical tastes but also a common thirst for musical exploration and sharing of ideas - which was seen not least as a logical next step from the adventures of Radial, in fact.
Veer, their first joint album, is the fruit of this particular partnership, and its predominantly looser groove signifies an altogether more improvisatory approach to the expression and building of musical themes and motifs. I'm unable to compare this latest project directly with Gris's previous musical collaborations (with Juldeeh Camara in 2011 and Amadou Diagne in 2013), but there's definitely an altogether more freewheeling aspect to the musical invention on Veer, to the extent that on occasions the sense of structure and form is wholly or partly subsumed in the momentum of the improvisation (although to be fair, this can often be the case with improv music, where a listener can easily feel excluded from the involvement of the musicians themselves). That's not to say that any of Veer's 12 tracks are at all aimless, but the overall impression can sometimes seem marginally less focused than on Gris's earlier records.
Even so, the tunes themselves are always interesting (not always the case with improv!) and Veer contains plenty of delectable tonal contrasts to savour, with abundant variety between tracks, the two musicians sharing a true delight in the timbres of unusual instruments. Gris adds to her nyckelharpa the Norwegian hardanger fiddle and the West African riti (one-stringed fiddle), as well as "conventional" violin, viola, piano and double bass. Ricardo adds to his impressive percussive armoury a Vietnamese mouth-harp (on Dan-Mois) and even a set of mouth-drums (made from pebbles), along with a thianou (straw harp) from Burkina Faso; his collection of naturally-tuned wind instruments includes the self-built fujaras (inspired by traditional shepherd's flutes from Slovakia) and (on the strangely jazzy Folia) two harmonic flute pipes played at the same time. The syncopated piano riffs of Sweven also take on board some overtone singing, while another track incorporates the sound of a log xylophone that Gris and Ricardo found in a forest.
Perhaps surprisingly, there's often a strong middle eastern influence to Ricardo's playing, which definitely complements Gris's largely Scandinavian-inspirations. Elsewhere, Ricardo's percussive inventiveness seems to know no bounds, and yet he can still be heard to benefit from the imposition of a more regular pulse to offset the improvisatory element. Additionally, on some tracks, Gris and Ricardo have engaged the services of guest musicians - Soufian Saihi on oud (on the medley of Grey Wethers and Fernworthy Circle), Nuno Silva (hammer dulcimer on Kairos) and Louis Bingham (cittern, tambura, bass and accordion). I rather like the cover pic too, by the way (is it my imagination, or does it make a cheeky nod to the famous Show Of Hands cover shot?)…
Veer brings to the responsive, open-minded listener some fresh, exotic, unusual - and most enjoyable - music.
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