To be sure, that Kristian Blak has got a versatile talent, is enough to listen to at least one of his records. Of course, he plays with the genres so skillfully, that his musical metamorphoses are hardly noticed from the first sight. Though, if you comprehend his works carefully, you can start listening to his album with the academic music, and finish with maestro’s jeers (personally, as I write this, I listen to a ruffian sketch «Risin Og Kellingin» from Blak’s suite «Drangar») and “belly” sounds of the wind instruments.
To get a perfect feeling of eclecticity of Blak’s art, I’ve decided to make an experiment and listen almost five albums of the band Yggdrasil non-stop. They were chosen under the principle “I’ll write about what really it is”, so further you’ll read my opinion on the albums «Drangar & Concerto Grotto» (1995 – I’m not sure, it’s the exact year of its release, because the information is different), «Yggdrasil» (2002), «Risastova» (2006), «Travelling» (2011) and «Grót & Vatn» (2012).
Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil «Drangar & Concerto Grotto» (Tutl, 1995)
«Drangar & Concerto Grotto», actually, fully characterizes the above-said. The album, including two suites by Kristian Blak («Drangar» и «Concerto Grotto»), is a fantastic hybrid of modern academic music, a sort of ethnic vanguard (all the psychedelic music in this record is represented by percussions, voice jeers and wind instruments with the expanded technique of playing) and, of course, jazz. However, there’s no so much of it in the record. If the suite «Drangar» (recorded at Nordic House in 1995 in Thorshavn) really begins with a relaxed jazz track, then the musical performance falls outside the limits of the specifies genre. It is a very small space for the suite. Well, like for the second suite in the record «Concerto Grotto» (1984 year of birth), sometimes completely passing over to the territory of academic music. Music by Kristian Blak can “shelter” everything: it can be penetrating to the bone, or can simple amuse. Listening to these two compositions, skillfully played by Yggdrasil (the notion is more generalizing, as during the lifetime of the band, perhaps, a half of all Faroese musicians played in it), one can live, though a short (a little more than one hour), but still a life. Beautiful and full of surprises.
Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil «Yggdrasil» (Tutl, 2002)
For those, who’ve thoroughly listened all the albums of a Faroese singer Eivør Pálsdóttir, record «Yggdrasil» of 2002 can be a real confession. The matter is, that almost in all her compositions (there are 12 of them) you can hear her magic voice. The fact of her presence is like raisins in a bun. Like, as it is delicious itself, but it’s more delicious with raisins. The major part of compositions in the album reflects the reframe by Kristian Blak (mainly by him) of a traditional Faroese music in the sense of jazz. Like in the «Drangar & Concerto Grotto», the saxophonist Tore Brunborg, the great flute player (how nice he’s mastered the “expanded” technique) Anders Hagberg, the bass player Anders Jormin and, of course, Kristian Blak, the piano player and composer, took part in the album recording. The role of percussion player performed Brandur Jacobson, which came to light in’s debut album few years earlier. Very harmonious with this record, by the way. «Yggdrasil», certainly, can be considered as one more diamond edge of Blak’s composer talent. The large majority of maestro’s works are naturally instrumental, but here we see not quite a poet (all the texts for songs are folk or written by other authors), but a songwriter. Lyric, appreciating the tembre of voice keenly (Eivør sounds here stronger, than in her first record), and able to create amazingly beautiful, delicate and and gorgeous (but not too) music.
Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil «Risastova» (Tutl, 2006)
«Risastova» is another reframe of a traditional Faroese music. But, to gain his point, this time Blak uses not only jazz, but also rock music. Another distinguished Faroese singer and musician also took part in this masterful cross-over — Kári Sverrisson. To be honest, alternatively to Eivør, Kári didn’t limit himself to the vocal, but became a rightfull author of the record, wrote and created arrangements for «Risastova» on a par with Blak. The texts, like those for Eivør’s album, are mostly folk. The general mood of this work is, after all, rather gloomy. This is mostly due to a forceful Sverrisson’s vocal and angsty saxophone of Villu Veski. «Risastova», by the way, can be easily divided into two parts. After industrial noise-arrangement "Grótljód" (it reminded me of the unforgettable Orka) Kári loses his own significance, making way for an old faithful band Yggdrasil and another instrumental suite by Kristian «Vágatunnilin». Here Mr. Blak and violinist Angelika Nielsen, known from my review on the album «Dímun», run the show. Thus, a lot of surprises wait for us too. Blak winds electric guitar into the patterns of his music and marvelously mutters, whispers, whines and sings in the extremely genial composition «Eg Havi Verið Níðrid» (big time blues). Listening to it, I want to cry: «Kristian Blak, sing more for us!». The second part of the album is so much different from the first, that they can be separated into two albums, in a good conscience. Thus, for what. It’s one more demonstration of the true complexity of Krisitian Blak’s talent.
Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil «Travelling» (Tutl, 2011)
Which is another redeeming feature of Kristian Blak’s music? Its conceptual importance. For instance, the album «Travelling» could be a simple album, but not – it’s a real journey. Moreover, this journey is rather through time, not space. Every set of the suite is not a simple music, but stories. Mostly, these are mythic and mystical (it’s no surprising for the project with such title). If we put aside all the richness of characters, which the authors provide for us in the liner notes (voodoos, horses, ocean etc.), we’ll see a fairly typical work of Yggdrasil together with musicians, which we know from the previous albums: c уже знакомыми нам по предыдущим альбомам музыкантами: Anders Hagberg, Angelika Nielsen, the guitar player Heðin Ziska Davidsen, and, of course, Mikael Blak. A pleasant thing (personally for me) is that the album is recorded on the Bloch Studio together with my good red-bearded friend Jónas Bloch Danielsen. Perhaps, it’s a kind of suggestion, but I, it seems so, feel his sound-engineering works subconsciously. A special thanks to Kristian Blak and other participants for appearance of black swan on the plate in «Swan», and for a highly reformed record of 1906 with a traditional song of Grenlandic Eskimos in the suite «Qajaq». They make magic effect more intensive.
Kristian Blak & Yggdrasil «Grót & Vatn» (Tutl, 2012)
The common idea of composers Kristian Blak and Richard Nunns resulted into, probably, one of the most barbaric records by Yggdrasil. It’s not only the most experimental (the folk instruments of the aborigines of New Zealand Maori and artificial noise elements do a good job), but, perhaps, the most improvisatory. It looks like, that for this very reason all musicians, that played in this album, are named in authors of music: Kristian Blak, Anders Hagberg, Richard Nunns, Heðin Ziska Davidsen and Mikael Blak. Each of them, certainly, made a contribution to it. That’s why these 9 plays are listened to in one sitting. Besides, this edition includes also the second disk. It’s a DVD with an extended version of «Grót & Vatn». I didn’t have time to listen to it yet, but, surely, that such sound format of “Stones and water” can drive crazy even more.
Yggdrasil is a really amazing project. The «Tree of Life» avidly absorbs the surrounding music (in their works you can find everything, from jazz to rock), feeds on natural powers and is inspired by folk (especial Scandinavian) music, and then it bears fruit – great, strikingly contrasting records. And, if you want to start your acquaintance with the Faroese music, then the works by Kristian Blak and his friends are, perhaps, the best choice. Besides, these guys never turns into itself and invites many outstanding Faroese musicians to join their group.
Reviewer by Anton Kovalsky.
Translated by Irina Boiko.