Economy Class comes at you like a wave. It crests and bursts over you—a solid gush of Frigg. The wave is mainly Finnish, partly Norwegian, lingeringly Appalachian-American, and prevailingly made up of fiddles. The drones, lilts, hums, squeaks, and the soprano chuckle of quick strings comprise meditations on polskas, schottisches, waltzes—old forms of music that have been around in the Nordic part of the world apparently forever, always being reworked, repeatedly tweaked. “In the old days, there were very long weddings, like three days. They always needed music that could be heard over the dancing and talking. The clarinet and fiddle were used a lot … [The fiddlers] might add ornaments, or change the lines to make them faster, or just add some extra notes,” observes Antti Järvelä, the group’s spokesperson. Three of Frigg’s seven core members are Järveläs, children of the same Järvelä clan that staffs Finland’s perhaps most famous fiddling group, Järvelän pikkupelimannit, or JPP. There is some crossover between the two groups. Antti is part of JPP. So is his cousin Esko Järvelä, who spends most of his time on this album playing the viola.
A not-atypical list of instruments included on one of the tracks on Economy Class looks like this: violin, violin, violin, violin, violin, violin, guitar, cittern, double bass. Another one goes like this: violin, violin, violin, violin, viola, guitar, guitar, mandolin, double bass. In other words, there’s a lot of string.
JPP plays music that is often calmly intricate, knotty, and interior, whereas Frigg prefers directness and extroversion. The musicians in Frigg jog or shoot along in tandem, rather than slide eelishly around one another in interlacing patterns, as the members of JPP and some other Nordic groups do. It makes them seem less layered than those other groups, but at the same time easier to grasp, more folksy, and less intimidating, despite the power of the Wave. They sound young. Not young as in inexperienced, but as in youthful, enthusiastic, unscarred. Dance is their preferred tempo. They bounce like spring lambs in dawnlit paddocks. The world might one day harden them and make their Wave dark and sombre, but not yet, not now. For now they are delighted by things.
The very cheerful title track occurred to Antti as he was sitting in an aeroplane with a serious hangover: “it was the most terrible condition you can imagine.” But the winding, skipping way the tune keeps twitching back and diving into itself is full of good cheer. Finally it jumps upwards into a massed-fiddle swing. It doesn’t sound like a hangover. The album’s opening track, “Jalla Jalla”, was composed by Esko while he was suffering from food poisoning after a holiday in Egypt. It starts with a mouth harp going doing and charges into a folk-rock waltz punctuated by barroom shouts of hey-hey-hey from voices offstage. It’s as if the musicians are saying, “No matter what bad thing happened to us, it came out fine in the end. Look, we got to make a song about it! It was an opportunity!” An irrepressible album.
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// Notes from the Road
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