Murder, sex and glorious quests

Phonix - Pigen rengen
Phonix – Pigen rengen

Pigen Drengen (Go Danish Folk Music Productions, 2002)

When I first started exploring Scandinavian music, I discovered the Danish folk-rock group Sorten Muld and at the time, that group represented Danish folk-roots music for me. While I did enjoy the gothic lyrics gleaned from Danish folk tales and some of the acoustic instruments that the group touted, their techno-pop renditions of folk ballads left me cold. (Some groups are better at marrying
techno with folk music than others). However, now another Danish folk-roots group, of a different nature, Phonix (pronounced foon-icks) has crossed my path and the group’s lively acoustic-based tunes have piqued my curiosity.

With music this wonderful, I wonder what other Danish traditional groups are waiting in the wings? And will Denmark be able to hold its own against traditional groups from Finland, Norway and Sweden?

Phonix was born from a folk-roots revival that flourished across Europe during the 1960’s and 70’s because members of the group were first introduced to Danish folk dance music while growing up during the folk-roots revival hey-day.

Founding group member and clarinetist Anja Praest Mikkelsen accompanied her folk dancing parents to traditional events and accordionist Jesper Vinther Petersen can also boast a similar childhood, although taking place in a different region of Denmark. Although Phonix (originally named Fritterne with a name change occurring in 1995) has morphed a few times during the 1990’s and to the present
time, the current lineup includes traditional vocalist-composer Karen Mose Norgaard, bass clarinetist Anja Mikkelsen, accordionist Jesper Petersen, and percussionist Jesper Falch.

Phonix’s 2002 release, Pigen Drengen features an additional musician, Anja’s sister Katja Mikkelsen on flute, recorder and fiddle. While she penned many of the songs on the recording, she left the group in 2003 to pursue other interest. So essentially, I am reviewing a CD that portrays the group’s previous lineup. However, I feel that this group is solid enough to reinvent itself and
it has already done so many times over the years. And in fact, they might be called the phoenix that rises time and time again from the ashes leading to changes that force the musicians to stay on their innovative toes. And let’s not use the word innovative lightly here.

These musicians imaginatively recreate traditional folk music by marrying bass clarinet, flute, fiddle, accordion, percussion and emotive vocals. And they seem to have a lot of fun recording
these lively dance tunes laced with quests involving fickle marriage partners, murder, shape shifting and tales about trolls that would ignite the late fantasy author JRR Tolkien’s passion for Nordic tales.

The opener, Tyge Hermansen not only introduces listeners to the lively instrumentation they will enjoy over the course of listening to the CD, it also sets a dreamy atmosphere of folk tale characters pursuing heroic deeds. Of course, the songs are sung in Danish so if you don’t understand Danish, you will have to follow along with the English translations that accompany the CD. And it could get confusing if you don’t pursue the translations, since a lively tune such as Mangelus sports a tale about a troll that shape shifts into a beautiful maiden that lures her human prey to her mountain lair. In fact, most of the songs, with the exception of Drommen (Dream) are composed in a major key, yet many of the tales appearing in the songs, feature themes about death (usually avoiding it), sex, and murder. The same themes also appear in folk songs of other Nordic groups including,
Hedningarna (Sweden/Finland), Varttina (Finland), Garmarna (Sweden) and Sorten Muld (Denmark) just to name a handful.

Phonix offers a nice blend of instrumentals composed mostly by former member Katja Mikkelsen and songs with lyrics that are thoughtfully complimented by Karen Mose’s warm honeyed vocals. Accordionist Jesper Petersen’s instrumental Melgven showcases Jesper’s composing and performing talents. The song starts off with a dreamy accordion solo that is soon joined by Anja’s clarinet drone tones and Katja’s recorder then later percussionist Jesper Falch’s delicious beats. It’s a song that will change the minds of those that equate acoustic instrumentation with boring music.

This delightful recording will warm the hearts and bodies of its listeners. It’s the kind of music that will cause you to dance or cuddle up next to a toasty fire. Bring on another round of folk tales and dance tunes.