NID, Roots World

Artist: NID
Title: NID
Label: Academus
Reviewed by: Cliff Furnald, Rootsworld

There is something about trios. The spare nature of the lineup and the direct connection between the ear and the individual musicians make them attractive to me. These same qualities also make the musicians more attuned to each other, locked in to nuances that might be missed in a larger ensemble, yet offering sonic complexities that might elude the duet or solo performance.

This particular instrumental trio from Sweden offers an unusual sonic structure. Mia Gustafsson is the violinist, Hanna Wiskari plays saxophones and Petter Berndalen whacks, strums and caresses kit and frame drums and all sorts of small percussion. The violin and saxophone often play in tight unison or harmony, breaking off to counter and challenge one another in careful, open improvisations. These two young women clearly have learned their lessons from some of the best, and you can hear phrasing that indicates how much they revere masters of the previous two decades, like Lena Willemark, Mikael Marin, (who produced this recording), Sven Ahlbäck, Jonas Knutsson, Sten Källman and Ellika Frissell. Berndalen’s playing owes much to the great Nordic drummer Terje Isungset in his use of brief, spacious patterns, irregular rhythms that fit tightly between the beat and unusual approaches to the instruments. They have studied the best of the best.

But they are ultimately their own masters. They show an astute understanding of regional folk music, with a particular focus on Värmland and Bohuslän, but they are not chained to the past and are willful in their reinterpretation of the old tunes. They freely mix in the jazz and classical idioms they all have training in, while never remaining true to the folk music, never becoming a fusion. Each tune offers a surprise, be it an unexpected sense of drama or a sudden flight of whimsy. This is all brilliantly expressed in their austere reading of Norwegian fiddler Hans Brimi’s ”Gammelhussin,” where the fiddle and percussion don’t so much take alternate lines of the tune as hurl them at one another, each challenging the other to take chances. They follow this with a warm romantic interpretation of the Brimi march ”Nävårsetermarsjen” that starts as a slow fiddle solo and then evolves bit by bit into a raucous turn on the American fiddle tune ”Blackberry Blossom,” punctuated by a brief animated line from ”Amazing Grace.”

[ni:d] may have complicated their professional lives with their unusual name, (the phonetic of the English word ’need’ as well as a reference to a Swedish song style), one that is impossible to file alphabetically. But perhaps that is the point; it is a name to match their equally undefined approach to folk music. As Wiskari explained to me, ”Mostly it’s about having a need for something – for example, playing music!”