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Album Review

In his many years of music-making the world over, perhaps nowhere has Swedish composer, keyboardist, and accordionist Lars Hollmer consistently found as many kindred spirits as in Quebec. Thankfully, Montreal musique actuelle godfather Jean Derome has continued a transatlantic conversation with Hollmer in the years since Derome joined the Swede's Looping Home Orchestra back in the early '90s, as documented on the Victo label's Door Floor Something Window live CD from 1993. Hollmer and Derome have certainly kept busy with separate endeavors during the years hence, but they are back together again on 2007's Karusell Musik, and a huge bunch of Derome's Quebec friends are along for the ride this time, recording in a Montreal studio during the fall of 2006 following a pair of festival appearances in la belle province during 2004 and 2005. Top billing on the CD cover goes to the wild, unruly, and fun-loving Fanfare Pourpour big band, whose ranks swelled to 20 musicians (including Hollmer and Derome), pumping away on instruments including accordions, clarinets, saxophones, violins, flutes, guitars, mandolin, banjo, melodica, piccolo, trumpet, euphonium, sousaphone, bass, drums, and percussion. Derome, whose baritone sax is particularly impressive, orchestrated new versions of Hollmer chestnuts dating all the way back to the first tune on his first solo album, the sprightly waltz "Avlägsen Strandvals" from 1981's XII Sibiriska Cyklar. This song, featuring a vocal turn from Hollmer that pushes well past merely enthusiastic, is one of 17 concise little numbers — usually in the range of two to three minutes long and nearly entirely instrumentals — performed with high energy and infectiously good spirits by the gargantuan yet nimble aggregation. The opening tune, "Ännu Ingen Pelle," first heard on 1985's Tonöga in a version with Hollmer overdubbing all the instruments, leaps out of the gate with nearly outrageous exuberance; it's the sound of a berserk brass band running amok as the composer rushes through the melody on his squeezebox, shouting encouragement as the bandmembers clustered around him ratchet up the intensity still further before the song slams to an abrupt finish.

There are plenty of appealing tunes on Karusell Musik that would seem ideal for revving up the crowd at an Oktoberfest beer garden, driven by emphatic backbeats or Hollmer's signature syncopated rhythms ("Ante Flöttar Ja Te Sjöss," also from XII Sibiriska Cyklar; "Skiss Mellan Brest Och Segosero," again from Tonöga), along with interludes that take a more avant-gardist stance but are refreshingly without the high-mindedness that sometimes afflicts "serious" musical experimentalists. In fact, there is a piece simply called "Experiment" (heard on 1988's Vendeltid in a comparatively gentle version under the title "Experiment [On Tour]," assembled from six separate live European performances in September 1987), with herky-jerky stops and starts as the Fanfare members shout and generally carry on in a crazy counterpoint to Lars, who, way up front in the mix with a deep bass-baritone vocal, speak-sings in cracked English that "This might be the most difficult I ever made." He wonders "if there is any reason at all...to even try to do it," except of course that "this gives me always fun." Appropriately, "Experiment" is followed by a brief free-form improvised intro to the two "Cirkus" pieces from Hollmer's Swedish Grammy-winning Andetag, here given utterly madcap big-top readings. And, as in its previous incarnations on the aforementioned Vendeltid and Door Floor Something Window, "Karusell Musik" winds faster and faster until it threatens to tumble off the rails. This tune cried out for a full-on large-ensemble arrangement, and the version here is arguably definitive.

The same might be said for the ever-popular "Boeves Psalm" and the album-closing "Simfågeldans," songs that ideally capture Hollmer's singular ability to mix the innocent with the bittersweet. Ever since "Boeves Psalm" first appeared on XII Sibiriska Cyklar in a version with all instruments overdubbed by Hollmer in his Chickenhouse studio, it has remained one of his most well-known and best-loved numbers. Those who have heard and admired "Boeves Psalm" played solo or by a small group need to hear it performed by a 20-piece ensemble with diverse instrumentation and variegated textures and timbres, and Karusell Musik provides just such a chance. This is, after all, a piece that Guy Klucevsek described as "one of the most beautiful melodies ever written" and "Blue" Gene Tyranny has compared to Mozart. Here, as the charming theme progresses, it receives the expected embellishments from strings and flute, horns, and then the bass instruments and percussion with just the beautiful and dramatic buildup you would hope for, and the Fanfare Pourpour prove themselves up to the challenge in their expert balancing of neo-classical nuance and power. "Simfågeldans" (originally on Tonöga) touches the emotions in a similar fashion to "Boeves Psalm," but with a livelier and more upbeat approach — and as rendered on Karusell Musik seems a perfect meld between Scandinavian folk melodicism and the exuberant polyphony of New Orleans classic jazz. As they jam out past two minutes after the closing theme, reaching and then retreating from crescendos like a single ebbing and flowing organism, Lars Hollmer and the Fanfare Pourpour pull the listener into a world of joyous celebration, and one wishes the vibe could continue long past the moment when the music has wound down into silence.

Biography

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Quebec's circusy big band Fanfare Pourpour have their roots in a number of musical and artistic groupings dating back to the mid-'70s through the early '80s, including L'Enfant Fort, a Saturday-afternoon Montreal street band; the Pouet Pouet Band, which incorporated theatrical and cabaret elements into their mix; and Montréal Transport Limité, an underground cabaret and progressive pop group. The musicians all went their separate ways until the summer of 1995, when their love of playing and performing...
Full bio
Karusell Musik, Fanfare Pourpour
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