Despite possessing one of the more unfortunate names in the annals of folk music, the Finnish/Norwegian fiddle ensemble Frigg plays a compelling blend of traditional instrumental Scandinavian folk and more contemporary Americana. The former manifests itself in the atmospheric textures of the bagpipes on "Peltoniemen Hintriikin Surumarssi," while the latter style is most apparent in the virtuoso "Fantomen," with its string-driven whirlwind of sound. The band's family relationship with the legendary folk outfit JPP provides a solid foundation on which to build its musical bridges between old and new worlds
Kaustinen, a cluster of villages on the slow-winding River Perho in the western Finnish region of Ostrobothnia, has long been famous for its fiddlers. But, largely as a result of the innovative influence and success of Kaustinen band JPP (the acronym derives from “Järvelän Pikkupelimannit”) and the teaching by that band’s Mauno Järvelä of all the kids in the area who want to learn, the standard of playing, tune writing and arranging has increased even further, and rapidly, over the past few years.
The band Frigg is at the crest of this new wave, full of fresh ideas and taking the next leap forward for Finnish fiddle music.
In Ostrobothnia it’s common for a surname to be the same as the family’s address; the Järveläs come from the village of Järvelä, the scatter of farmhouses a bow-throw up river from Kaustinen. In Frigg are three members of the family’s fourth generation of famous fiddlers: Mauno’s daughter Alina, son Esko and nephew Antti. Their grandfather Johannes Järvelä and great-grandfather Antti Järvelä were both legendary master players.
You won’t find the family names of the four other band members on the gravestones outside Kaustinen’s big yellow and white wooden church, though. Two are from other parts of Finland, and the name Frigg (the Norse goddess of love and fertility) reflects the fact that in this band Finnish fiddling meets Norwegian. Playing both ordinary and Hardanger fiddle are brothers Gjermund and Einar Olav Larsen, from Verdal in the central Norwegian region of Trøndelag. They have played as a duo since childhood, three times winning the group category at Norway’s national traditional music competition, the Landskappleik, in which in 2002 at the age of twenty-one Gjermund became the youngest ever winner of the solo fiddle category; he won it again in 2005.
Their father, bukkehorn player and fiddler Geir Egil Larsen, would take them with him when he visited older fiddlers such as Hilmar Alexandersen, whose playing was a big influence on the brothers. They first visited Kaustinen with their father in the early nineties, and there they met Mauno Järvelä and his family.
Both of them have benefited from the possibilities that exist in Norway, as they do in Finland, for education in folk music. Specialising in music at Inderøy high school they joined the folk musicians’ course at the Ole Bull Academy in Voss and followed it with a music course at the college in Nord-Trøndelag. Gjermund went on to the Musikkhøgskolen in Oslo, which, like the Voss academy, is a meeting place for young folk musicians from around Norway, each bringing their own tradition, and there he became part of Norwegian Grammy winning fiddle band Majorstuen, with whom he still plays.
Antti Järvelä, despite being one of the Finland’s leading fiddlers, in Frigg largely forsakes his fiddle to play double bass, as he also does in JPP and another hot combo, the fiddle and accordion band Troka, bringing a new articulacy and inventiveness to Finnish folk bass playing.
Alina Järvelä has moved from being a pupil of her father Mauno to being his colleague in teaching their hundreds of young fiddle pupils in the Kaustinen area and beyond, and she also teaches classical violin at Tampere Suzuki School of Music.
Fiddling brother Esko Järvelä is, in other contexts such as Kaustinen thrash-folk heroes Tötterssön, also a key-pounding, pedal-pumping demon on the harmonium, an instrument characteristic of Kaustinen wedding-bands. But while both he and Antti play it on the first CD, Frigg doesn’t follow the Kaustinen tradition and cart one of those hefty items around to back the fiddles.
Instead the ground between fiddles and bass is covered by Petri Prauda and Tuomas Logrén. Prauda, from southern Finland, plays mandolin, cittern and Estonian bagpipes, the latter an unusual addition, visually interesting with its low- slung drones and capable of giving a Hedningarna-like squeal in concert with the four, sometimes five, fiddles.
Logrén plays guitar and also brings a new sound to Finnish folk music: that of dobro. Its zipping, curling slide sound weaves among the fiddles with a remarkable rightness. He comes from Rääkkylä, in Karelia near Finland’s eastern border with Russia, the home village of well-known Finnish roots band Värttinä (of which, in his early teens, he was a member).
With their galvanic live shows, and the 2005 second album, Keidas Oasis Oase building on the buzz caused by the 2002 debut album Frigg, the band have been catching ears on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, during the recent US tour an appearance on Garrison Keillor’s famous networked radio show A Prairie Home Companion had the studio audience baying for an encore. That’s the way it’s turning out wherever they play.