16 February, 1999
Knut Hamre and Steve Tibbetts
It may prove a tough sell–a record titled Å?–but this new collaboration between jazz guitarist Steve Tibbetts and world music is dazzling. On 1997’s Cho, Tibbetts painted an aural landscape with a chanting Tibetan nun. With Å (pronounced “Ah”) he joins Knut Hamre, master Hardanger fiddle player. Hardanfele music is the devil’s own in Norway, apparently, and the Lutheran church once ordered mass burnings of the instrument, perhaps unsettled by its wild drones and hypnotic tones.
Tibbetts, of course, is here to praise the fiddle, not bury it, and he complements Hamre with his own delicate pickings. Acoustic bass, percussion loops, table drums, and even Gamelan samples enrich the texture without drawing attention away from ethereal melodies and a rigorous almost baleful sonority. Hard to say where the music belongs, for it is at once tuneful and ambient, wistful and harsh, blunt and lingering. Actually, it’s an easy call: Å belongs on your shelf.