Frigg: A collective that plays in a major key
by Riikka Hiltunen :: 2010
From Kaustinen through Norway across the Atlantic, with violins! The Finnish-Norwegian band Frigg is in huge demand in Europe and America, and their music brings the continents together too.
Frigg had seven members in its original lineup, and its pedigree is demonstrated by the names of the two families principally involved. Three of the Finnish members are named Järvelä: Antti Järvelä is the band leader and bass player and sometimes plays the violin too; his cousin Esko plays the harmonium and Esko's sister Alina the violin. They belong to the Järvelä family, the celebrated pelimanni musicians from Kaustinen who made their reputation with the JPP ensemble (originally Järvelän Pikkupelimannit) at the turn of the 1990s.
The other famous name comes from Norway, as brothers Gjermund and Einar Olav are members of the Larsen family of fiddlers. They play the Hardanger fiddle in addition to the conventional violin. They are sons of violinist and bukkelhorn player Geir Egil Larsen from Verdal in the Trøndelag region, and they bring their own special heritage to the mix.
We have the previous generation to thank for bringing Frigg together. An educational exchange between the two families that began in Kaustinen in the 1990s led to all-night jam sessions by the younger family members. The very first demo that the fledgling combo cut earned them a grant for making a CD, and the band released its first, self-titled album in 2002. Frigg went on tour abroad for the first time in the following year, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Violins form the most conspicuous part of the band’s sound, as there may be up to five of them playing at one time. There is also an imaginative mix of other instruments: Petri Prauda plays the mandolin and the cittern, but also the Estonian bagpipes, and Tuomas Logrén handles the guitar and the dobro. Having the name Järvelä or Larsen is not a requirement for playing with Frigg; indeed, Prauda and Logrén are from southern and eastern Finland, respectively, not from Kaustinen.
Sound from a tangle of roots
Whichever way one looks at and listens to Frigg, their music is above all firmly in touch with its roots, both of the Kaustinen sort and of the Trøndelag sort, although there are more distant influences grafted onto it, such as Anglo-American folk, country music and bluegrass. The band’s repertoire mostly consists of pieces written by the band members themselves and includes new arrangements of traditional tunes from both Finland and Norway. Frigg dextrously skirt around the more melancholy aspects of the Finnish tradition: they only play in major keys!
Because the band members are busy with various things and because they are separated by the whole of Sweden, it is difficult to assemble the entire band for live gigs. There is already a healthy stable of stand-ins especially for gigs in Finland. Band leader Antti Järvelä notes that Frigg are now more of a loose collective made up of 11 or 12 musicians, from which a performing combo can be assembled in various ways. Although the internal dynamic of the band varies depending on who is actually playing, the sound is always more or less the same. And one thing remains constant: the bans is always bursting with energy whenever it is on stage.
The good humour and rock energy of the band have captivated audiences particularly in the USA, where they have toured several times. In addition to three studio albums, the band have released Frigg Live (2007), which gives some sort of idea of the energy that the band puts into its live performances. The next Frigg CD is planned for release in 2010.
Translation © Jaakko Mäntyjärvi