In David Byrne‘s smart (of course) recent book How Music Works, he suggests that music is created to fill a context that is brought about by the natural ebb and flow of the society around it. For example, Gregorian chants were created to suit the highly resonant architecture of Medieval cathedrals, yet African drumming was created to sound strong and carry far outdoors wherever it was played.

Listening to the new Crooked Fiddle Band album Moving Pieces of The Sea, I was reminded of Byrne’s idea – the microphone, that surprisingly innocent-looking device, makes any context you want possible. In the Crooked Fiddle Band it allows heavy (John Bonham heavy) drums to sonically co-exist alongside the band’s nyckelharpa, guizouki and cittern (what wonderful words for instruments), adding a contemporary thud to some very ancient sounding music. (No, not ancient sounding: more always-been-here sounding music).

crooked fiddle 2

But who cares about all that musico-anthropological flannel?  –  The Crooked Fiddle Band and Moving Pieces of The Sea make one want to jump for joy (albeit jump in a Bulgarian 9/8 – 2,2,2,3 – time signature). From the first note, the Band, via Steve Albini‘s (Nirvana, The Pixies, Gogol Bordello, Joanna Newsom) transparent and very sympathetic production, burst forth in a torrent of joyous/sad/reflective/triumphant feeling – whether whirling dervish-like at a mountain wedding, toasting the hunt with millet beer or gazing across the green waters for the return of a lover, these eight tracks (well, six and an 18 minute two-part suite) will transport you. I know they did me.

Brian Eno has said of the Band, “The Crooked Fiddle Band are completely surprising. The music is original and quixotic, and yet has the strength of some deep and strong roots. I can’t say I’ve ever heard anything else like it!” crooked fiddle 1

Brian Eno, Steve Albini – The Crooked Fiddle Band are attracting the attention and patronage of some heavy hitters. And it is no wonder – Moving Pieces of The Sea has that perfect balance of joy in the telling and some serious musicianship going on. It can be enjoyed on a number of levels and thrills one as much from the neck up as from the neck down.

Inspired by Scandinavian fjords, lakes, waterfalls and streams, Moving Pieces of The Sea is dripping with water imagery. The title comes from oceanographer Jacques Cousteau‘s letter to his son in 1963 which says “The fish were just moving pieces of the sea. I smiled because I knew… you would always seek after the vanishing shapes of a better world”.

Opening track, ‘The Vanishing Shapes of a Better World’ conjures these fleeting fish with guitars and marimba (and those John Bonham drums!) before a lovely fiddle melody from Jess Randall morphs into that Bulgarian hoe-down.

Just as blues seems to rise up in disparate cultures across the world from Africa to Chicago, so does the frenzied dance – ‘Neptunes Fool’ could be Bulgarian, Celtic, Pakistani. I am trying to avoid the ‘world music’ tag here – as John McLaughlin said “We all live in the world” – and it is lazy. Suffice to say The Crooked Fiddle Band draw from the music of the world – just dig Joe Gould‘s 7/8 tabla groove on “Shanti and The Singing Fish” before it explodes and goes all Led Zep on yo ass.

And so to the big one, the two part suite – ‘The Deepwater Drownings Part I & II’. The first part is a song, melancholy sea shanty – albeit twisted. The second part – all 13:39 of it – is where The Crooked Fiddle Band show themselves to be what all the great bands are: a force of nature. Over the course of the tune, the Band jam a tone-poem to wond’rous water, in all its forms – from wide Swedish rivers, to rippling streams pouring through the Carpathians, to fjords and eddies and ice creeks, widening out finally to oceans and oceans and oceans. As I said, transporting stuff.

The music and vibe of The Crooked Fiddle Band show themselves to be curators and stewards of vanishing shapes of a better world. Whether applied to the nature world – we all know, painfully, how quickly and irreversibly it is succumbing to myopic business interests – or to the vanishing shapes of music that is made for celebration, rituals of kith and kin, or just the plain joy of living – there is something elemental and – dare I say it? – important in what The Crooked Fiddle Band  do.

But while we are pondering all that heavy shit, grab your partner, charge your mug and  have a Balkan boogie to Moving Pieces of The Sea.

Published October 2013 on theorangepress.net

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