Downbeat, August 1999

Think of Steve Tibbetts’ musical world as a closely guarded enclave. His themes and methods are consistent and highly devel­oped, but outsiders are infrequently admitted.

The music has evolved gradually as the gui­tarist selectively and thoughtfully incorporates external influences. In recent years, he’s absorbed musical elements from Indonesia, Tibet and Norway. Å (just say “ah”) successful­ly joins the hardingfele, a.k.a. hardanger fiddle, with Tibbetts’ distinctive, often beautiful con­structions. Emblematic of Norwegian folk music, the hardingfele features four sympathet­ic strings that generate its characteristic micro­tones.

In Utne, Tibbetts recorded fiddlers Knut Hamre and Turid Spildo performing tunes inspired by traditional themes.  Back home, he manipulated and processed the tapes adding rhythm tracks from percussionist Marc Anderson and bassist Anthony Cox, as well as acoustic guitar and samples.

Fidelity to Norwegian folk tradition is highly suspect, but Å fits very well within. the contempla­tive, acoustic vein of Tibbetts’ recordings.  The cyclical melodies and edgy harmonies of the fid­dles are always focal points of these arrange­ments. Tracks like “Spelar Guro” and “Huldra­rmi” suggest dance rhythms and benefit from the support of Cox’s bass, though it’s well back in the mix. Tibbetts surrounds Hamre’s plaintive, bitter­sweet melodies with airy but subtly detailed musical environments. In these settings, the gui­tar offers continuity and warmth, though it’s rarely the center of attention.

This CD presents a curious context for the hardingfele, and the high, chilly sound of the fiddle will challenge the unini­tiated listener.  Given its limited expressive range, the hardingfele’s allure can wear thin over the course of 12 tracks.

-Jon Andrews

Steve, Turid, Knut, and Marc standing outside the church they recorded in.
Steve, Turid, Knut, and Marc, Norway