Alban Faust, Bordunmusik fran Dalsland (Tonart, 1996)
Ensemble Alruna and Falsobordone, In medias res: Bordunmusik fran 1500-talet (Tonart 2000)
Falsobordone, Figs, fiddles and fine play (Kulturkometen, 2003)

I was helping the brownies tidy up the CD library in the Green Man office building when I happened to run across Figs, fiddles and fine play. While we were listening to that, I noticed that the Ensemble Alruna and Alban Faust CDs on a nearby shelf both featured some of the same artists. I figured someone had already reviewed these lovely folk collections, but alas, no one had. So I decided to do the honors for our December 2007 all-music issue.

Let me start with some background information:

Alban Faust is a German musician and instrument maker who relocated to Dalsland in western Sweden in 1988, when he was in his late 20s. Although he specializes in playing and making Swedish bagpipes (Svensk sackpipa), he also plays and makes keyed fiddles (nyckelharpa) and whistles. According to his Web site, he has made instruments for Ale Moller and Per Gudmundson of Frifot. That means I could have seen and heard his instruments at the Frifot or Ale Moller-Aly Bain performances I've attended over the last few years.

According to Wikipedia, falsobordone refers to a style of recitation found in music written and performed in the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries. The band called Falsobordone is a Swedish medieval ensemble founded in 1995 that primarily plays music from Spain, France and Italy. Its core members (Erik Ask-Upmark and Anna Rynefors) sing and play instruments including bagpipes, fiddles and hurdy-gurdies. In medias res is a CD collaboration featuring Alban Faust, the two core members of Falsobordone, and the brothers Anders and Christer Adin. The Adin brothers also play on Bordunmusik fran Dalsland, along with Christer's wife Mia Gunberg-Adin, Dieter Grell, Einar Hansander and Harald Pettersson.

We listened to all three CDs in chronological order one cold and rainy November afternoon. Bordunmusik fran Dalsland (which translates as 'drone music from Dalsland') has a bizarre piece of artwork on the cover, a bit of medieval surrealism depicting a creature playing a bagpipe that has the face of a monk (I surmise the latter from his tonsure), where the monk's nose forms the chanter. This CD is a whopping 65 minutes long, comprised of 23 relatively short tracks. These are all instrumental (although track 13 sounds like it has a voice used as an instrument in it). The Swedish traditional tunes are distinctive and sparsely elegant, reminiscent of chamber music only a bit more twisted. I would love to be able to tell you something about the origins of the tunes, but the notes describing them are in Swedish, a language I simply cannot read. I can tell you that the instruments include several different bagpipes (in this way the CD reminds me of work by English pipemakers Jon Swayne or Julian Goodacre) of both Swedish and French design, nyckelharpas, bouzoukis, guitars, violins, mandolas and hand drums. A couple of tracks also feature the didgeridoo, an instrument I like but find oddly out of place in such an otherwise traditional Swedish or at least European context. Lest you wonder, these instruments are not all used at once. A typical track features three or four instruments at most.

In medias res (subtitled Bordunmusik fran 1500 talet, or 'drone music from the 16th century') offers a totally different sound, in large part because the tunes originate on the continent rather than in the Nordic countries. The 18 tracks contribute to a total run time of 57 minutes and include a few vocal pieces, some with a light female voice reminding me of the first Whirligig vocalist (Shannon Anderson on "The Wheel"), a few with male voices that sound more growly, like the male vocalists on the Ilgi CDs. In addition to Alban's various bagpipes, instruments on this one include krumhorn, viola da gamba basso, Gothic harp, Jews' harp, mandolin, hurdy-gurdy and lute. I wrote in my notes that this CD reminded me of medieval music for the winter holidays. I could almost see the candlelight and smell the frankincense as I listened to it!

Figs, fiddles and fine play (subtitled a musical taste of the 14th century) is the only CD Falsobordone has done on its own that is available outside Sweden. According to their Web site, Cantigas de Santa Maria is 'regrettably not available for non-domestic orders.' Too bad! The performers on this CD include Erik Ask-Upmark and Anna Rynefors, along with Goran Hallemarken, Sven Jansson, Karin Strinholm Lagergren, Stefan Wikstrom, and the ubiquitous Anders Adin. As might be expected, the overall effect of this company is quite rich and full, akin to the Blowzabella wall of sound with its reliance on bagpipes and hurdy-gurdies.

Like In medias res, the tunes and songs on Figs, fiddles and fine play originated in Europe, primarily Spain, France and Italy. Food is the 'theme' of this CD, and the liner notes feature five suitably vegetarian recipes from the Middle Ages, with text in English as well as Swedish. Nonetheless, the liner notes also advise that these tunes and songs are either about unrequited love or were written in praise of various saints. I found the production values particularly high on this CD. My only complaint is that it's too short, just over 49 minutes of music (in fourteen tracks).

I think these CDs are all quite fine, all worthy of purchasing and listening. Now, how easy are they going to be for you to find? Well, it doesn't look like Amazon.com will work for these. I did find a stateside retail outlet for Figs, fiddles and fine play, CDBaby in Portland, OR. It looks like you can still order Bordunmusik fran Dalsland from Alban's Web site--I also found it on Amazon.de. We've had good luck over the years ordering CDs from this source. Alas, In medias res doesn't seem to be available anywhere at this time. (Unless you want to order from Japan's HMV for 2,277 yen!, ed.)

Oh, by the way, when I was doing the background research for this review I came upon the Web sites for Faust's label Vildsint Records and for Anders Adin (who makes hurdy-gurdies). It looks like Alban has done four CDs since Bordunmusik fran Dalsland. His most recent, Naken, features him playing unaccompanied nyckelharpa. Anders's Web site lists one of the Faust albums as well as three others that feature bagpipes, nyckelharpa, and percussion. Sounds like some more good listening!