On the eponymous EP introducing the instrumental music of Aerialists to the world, Gaelic and Scandinavian folk traditions interweave with jazz and just a hint of rock in an intoxicating blend. Like the acrobats for whom the band are named, these five expertly performed tunes swoop and soar, gliding along with effortless grace.
Two Canadians, an American and a Scot form Aerialists’ core, ably supported by a rotating cast of top drawer drummers. All are studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and in such an intensely focussed environment have come together to create some very beautiful sounds. Comprising two originals and three lovely Nordic folk gems, the EP is a teasing release whetting the appetite for plenty more, especially in a concert situation. But then looking at the individuals in Aerialists’ ranks, none of this should really come as a surprise.
Adam Iredale-Gray co-founded the dazzling Fish & Bird, one of Canada’s most innovative folk-rock outfits, and incredible live. In that band he plays mainly fiddle, and how, but for Aerialists Iredale-Gray has switched to guitar.
The fiddle is instead in the brilliant hands of Elise Boeur, a fabulous player I have seen perform live with at least half a dozen different acts. One was her duo with fellow Aerialist, bass guitarist Nate Sabat, the pair dedicated to reinterpreting traditional folk songs of Norway, where Boeur has also studied.
Sabat’s CV to date is, well, whoa, with mentions of performing, working or studying with the likes of Tony Trischka, Bela Fleck and the Kronos Quartet. He also plays in the Boston bluegrass four-piece, Mile Twelve, another thrilling live band.
Completing the quartet, harpist Màiri Chaimbeul hails from the Isle of Skye . With numerous prestigious folk and jazz awards and nominations under her belt, Chaimbeul is a hypnotic performer to watch, regularly collaborating with such as Darol Anger and fiddler Jenna Moynihan.
Both originals, opening cut Deep Toque (as premiered on Folk Radio UK) and September 24th, are composed by Iredale-Gray. From the opening seconds of the former I am reminded, not so much of the music, but of the spirit of Pentangle, (Ralph Towner’s) Oregon, or Bellowhead, where seemingly disparate sonic elements come together in joyous union. The latter gently bops along until displaying the potential for experimentation in Aerialists’ music, climaxing in a brief, tangled cacophony.
The pretty, summery Vals efter Kristian Oskarsson is a traditional Swedish folk tune offering the perfect showcase for Boeur’s silky skills and Chaimbeul’s glistening harp tones; it is impossible to listen to it without a smile on one’s face. Closing the EP is a delightful medley of the traditional Irish slip jig, Catherine Kelly’s – previously recorded by The Chieftains and Martin Hayes, among many – and Bjørnekæden by Danish folk guitarist Morten Alfred Høirup, from the band Himmerland.
My EP highlight honour, however, goes to the stunning second track, Flädergodis, meaning elderberry wine, written and originally recorded by Swedish folk multi-instrumentalist, Esbjörn Hazelius, from his 2009 album, Close Your Eyes and You Will See. It is a mesmerizing piece, built on a lilting, almost medieval-sounding melody, also featuring jazzy vocalisations, back in the mix, that would not sound out of place on an album by The Free Design. Pure class, and exquisitely performed.
In their publicity materials Aerialists amusingly play on the need of the music press to apply hyphenated categorisation to the music of their, or any other band, such as post-folk and alt-roots. Such tags can sometimes get silly (anyone remember ‘fraggle’?), but pigeonholing will certainly always help in steering listeners to music of interest. Here Aerialists settle for ‘prog-trad,’ but if pushed I would suggest a much more direct ‘bloody-excellent.’
Aerialists EP is out now. Order it via Bandcamp here: aerialists.bandcamp.com