Two Danes and a Swede walked into a pub… no, not the opening line of a joke; rather, the beginning of a musical collaboration that has produced some of the most exciting new music to emanate from Scandinavia since Väsen helped the resurgence of the nyckelharpa. Nikolaj Busk (piano and accordion), Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen (violin) and Ale Carr (Cittern) formed Dreamer’s Circus after a chance meeting and jam session in 2009. As in their 2013 debut, A Little Symphony, their newly released follow-up, Second Movement, takes the traditions of Scandinavian folk music as a starting point, adds European classical and jazz influences, and stirs into the mix the incredible talents of the Danish String Quartet (of which Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen is also a member). To this heady mix is added their own ability to take a theme and guide it, attentively, through any number of twists, turns and delights toward a musical adventure that can be as dramatic as a stormy sea, as full of light as a snow-clad mountain peak, or as colourful and tranquil as an alpine meadow.
In the album opener, Folkrotsvalsen, the sound progresses from a rustic, hardanger fiddle introduction to a fuller, richer and thoroughly modern sound that includes not only violin, bass, cittern, accordion; but also rich production, uplifting melody, and a level of professionalism that can only be found among the most accomplished musicians. And Dreamer’s Circus are certainly accomplished. Traditional folk music is very much the spring-board for Dreamer’s Circus but the flights of fancy that follow on from that initial leap are beguiling. Sofastykket’s Harp/Cittern opening presents a soft cascade behind the accordion’s meandering melody. It’s music in a dream-state, with the gentle chant is the only vocal on the album.
Individual tracks are also expertly matched. For example – August is an exquisite piano led melody that pairs perfectly with the opening of Nine Moons, which, like many of Ale’s compositions, allows piano and violin to wander through cheerfully invigorating passages toward something that is less confined by structure and has almost as much in common with modern jazz as it has Nordic classical/folk. With its gently faltering waltz, piano and harp First Impression serves as an introduction to the invigorating and, at times, frantic A Room In Paris. Rune’s fiddle works overtime to set a racing rhythm, alongside cittern and accordion, creating a dynamism that comes across somewhat like Lau. And the soft drama played out between viola and piano in Ballad Of Solitude Street has brief periods of intensity, but ultimately lulls the listener before the sheer exuberance of J.S. Bach’s Violin Partita no.3 – Preludio as opening to Prelude to the Sun. This soars between Bach’s demanding baroque and Rune’s own Nordic/Romany responses. Nikolaj’s piano helps bring things back to planet Earth for a time, until Rune pulls the participants once again, irresistibly, towards the sun in a conclusion that J.S. himself would have gloried in, and inspires rapturous applause when performed live.
The substantial Fragments Of Solbyn takes just under 12 minutes to neatly close the album, and succeeds in encompassing the full spectrum of what Dreamer’s Circus bring to their music. Incredible detail, epic soundscapes, and jaw-dropping technique.
Back in January Dreamer’s Circus enthralled a Celtic Connections audience in Glasgow with an unlisted appearance that saw them earn a standing ovation and a new following in Scotland. You can read about that evening here, but I’d heartily recommend that you waste no more time and get yourself a copy of Second Movement.
Dreamer’s Circus have proven they will refuse, gleefully, to be restricted by genre or by tradition. Their approach is all-embracing and their technical ability simply outstanding. Their music is completely accessible and, at the same time, remarkable in its complexity. Second Movement carries the listener from calm contemplation to a euphoric exuberance – a journey to be relished.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Out Now via Go Danish
Order it here