Elysian Fields | FIKA Review
By: Griff Stevens
Elysian Fields is an Australian electric viola da gamba ensemble founded by leading early musician and viola da gambist, Jenny Eriksson, and highly regarded jazz musicians, Matt Keegan and Matt McMahon. The ensemble charts new sonic territory at the intersection of jazz, world music, and classical chamber music. The music they create together is unique in instrumentation – voice/violin, saxophones, electric viola da gamba, piano, bass guitar, and drums and in the unique original compositions. The group has a particular affinity to Scandinavia, including through Jenny Eriksson’s Swedish grandfather. Eriksson explains, “Connecting back to the musical aesthetic of Sweden, where I still have relatives, is also important to me. I have done this previously through my acoustic ensemble, The Marais Project. I am very attracted to the sound and sound production world of Scandinavian jazz and improvised music. Bringing these strands together in an original Australian recording has been a powerful and unrelenting dream of mine.” Fika (pron. ‘fee-ka’) is Elysian Fields’ latest exploration of their Swedish heritage, and the links group members have with Scandinavian. It consists of original commissions by group members as well as several folk song arrangements.
“Living” is a Jan Bunnar Hoff composition that he wrote in the dark month of December in Northern Norway. The distinct sounds of Norway run through the flowing melody as the ensemble brings the song to life with energy and vitality. Bishops’ violin and Eriksson’s electric viola da gamba blend with Keegan’s warm saxophone to give a beautiful sonority. Keegan’s improvisations are passionate and flow in a manner complementary to the melody and overall mood of the composition. The marriage of jazz and Scandinavian music is beautiful.
“Vi Ska ställa till enroliger dans” is a traditional melody that has been used as a round dance-singing game since the 1800s in Stockholm. The melody is expertly sung by Bishop, and the joyful and festive feel is transmitted through all the players. The counterpoint in the instrumental sections is varied and plentiful with exciting textures and sounds. Erisson says, “As artists, we MUST be prepared to do new things, even if it means leaving behind the safe and well-trodden paths on which we know where to step. I am a classically trained early musician specializing in the French baroque. Several years ago, I knew I had to expand my horizons, which is why I bought and taught myself the electric viola da gamba. I also wanted to create an artistic mileau that would attract and nurture improvising musicians like Matt McMahon, Dave Goodman, and Matt Keegan, where they could also explore new territory and try new ideas.” That search has led to taking gems like “Vi Ska ställa till enroliger dans” and bringing them to life with Elysian Fields.
FIKA is a beautiful recording that captures an ensemble that is creative and passionate about their artistic statement. The joy and love for the music and each other comes through in the music, as does their passion for expressing themselves. This album has an extensive musical appeal and needs to be heard.
Release Date: July 1, 2020
Label: Move Records