Monday, October 12, 2015

Celtic Intersections: Harald Haugaard and Low Lily

Fiddle player and composer Harald Haugaard grew up in Denmark; Liz Simmons, Flynn Cohen, and Lissa Schneckenburger, the musicians who make up Low Lily, are based in New England. There are Celtic connections in the stories they tell with their music, and they each bring aspects of their own landscapes and backgrounds to the mix.

Harald Haugaard had thought that he was working on an album that would be a rather dark collection of music. He’d positioned it as work about endings, the final part of a trilogy of recordings which began with Burning Fields and continued with Den Femte Soster. As he worked through what he wanted to convey, though, he found himself appreciating “ the beauty and light to be found in endings, in solitude, in autumn,” as he writes in the notes for the music which became Lys Og Forfald, which translates as Light and Decay in English.

It is music of journeys, to be sure, and music of reflection. There are new compositions as well as several pieces from earlier times reimagined. At varied points along the way he brings in members of his touring band as well as players from a former band of his, Serras, the German string ensemble Fraunhofer Saitenmusik, and musical friends including Hans Mydtskov, Brian Finnegan, and Helene Blum. It is Haugaard’s fiddle which anchors and guides the music, however.

He begins the journey in a clear and thoughtful reflection paring his fiddle with Roger Tollroth’s guitar, in, as Haugaard says, “The clear light of September.” As the music unfolds. in the pieces Prelude and Skye-Havnen there are modern day journeys of exploration, challenge, and discovery -- in a bit of a nod Denmark’s well known spinner of tales, Hans Christian Andersen. Consideration of community and connection that form part of ttravels that goes with being a musician come inot play in the tune Sostre og Brodre/Sisiters and Brothers. Port Orford, named after a small community in Oregon, finds Blume lending her voice to create sound rather than to convey lyrics in a piece considering solitude and wilder places.

As creating the music evolved, Haugaard chose on the one hand to comment a bit on past compositions and join up with musicians he’d worked with on other projects. Abne Ojne/Opne Eyes as a commentary one of Blum’s recordings and the tour they did with that music, Nacht des Unbekannten/Night of the Unknown a return collaboration with Fraunhofer Saitenmusik are among these. It is however the title track Lys og Forfald which became the center of the story, as Haugaard came to see change and ending much as the beauty of falling autumn leaves may let the light in to a woods. In what might be heard as a commentary on that, he ends the recording with his fiddle alone playing Morgen/Morning. All of the music on Lys Og Forfald is a journey well worth the taking and reveals new aspects with each hearing.

In just six tracks on their self titled recording Low Lily the musicians of Low Lily offer dynamic and intriguing expression of the music they make, a collection well worth repeated hearing as well. They kick things off with traditional song House Carpenter, with Liz Simmons taking lead voice in a version which manages to be both lively and moody as the enigmatic tale of promises and deception unfolds. Schneckenburger’s original song This Girl’s Not Mine tells a story you might find in the north woods in days past -- and in the present too. There is a fiddle solo in the midst of the song which adds to the storytelling atmosphere, and trombone lines which enliven the contemporary side of the song.

Mandolin from Cohen and fiddle from Schnekenburger lead the conversation in Cohen’s driving original Northern Spy -- you have to think of the crisp flavor of the apple as you listen. Simmons on rhythm guitar and Corey DiMario of double bass anchor the rhythm on this and other tracks on the recording.

Simmons and Cohen follow with an original piece each, each story having to do with travel and journeys and how those may be experienced. Simmons steps up to lead voice again on her song Adventurer, while Cohen’s is the lead voice on All Roads Lead to You. Contemporary songs both, but ones rooted in tradition in both idea and arrangement.

Liz Simmons, Flynn Cohen and Lissa Schneckenburger have individual careers which include solo projects, teaching, playing with musicians across the spectrum of roots music. They are each top notch at what they do. When they join up as Low Lily there’s even more to enjoy in the conversations they share in voice and instrument. They finish off the EP Low Lily with the instrumental set Cherokee Shuffle/Lucky which joins tradition and newly written tunes, and sets the stgae for more to come from this gifted trio.

Celtic connections and intersections inform the music of Harald Haugaard and the songs and tunes of Low Lily, as they bring together ideas from past and present, center and edge, to create music all their own.

You may also wish to see
Long Time Courting: Alternate Routes
Music of Maine: Lissa Schneckenburger
Denmark’s Harbor of Music: Harald Haugaard at Perceptive Travel
Winter and Music in Denmark: Helene Blum at Perceptive Travel

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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