The Alehouse Sessions: Traditional Tunes and Arrangements
There are some things you just can’t fake. The chemistry of a group is one of those – the sparks of musical energy that fly when certain artists collide. Bjarte Eike’s Barokksolistene is an alchemical miracle of an ensemble, a collective of virtuosos whose instinctive, playful communication and delight in one another’s skill amplifies their individual performances, transforming them into pure musical gold.
In addition to their formal concerts of Baroque repertoire, Eike and his colleagues have, since 2007, developed another strand of performances. Inspired by the music-making of Commonwealth England, when theatres were closed and music forced underground into taverns, brothels and alehouses, their Alehouse Sessions create their own mongrel genre, combining 17th-century classical music with dances, sea shanties and folk songs from around the world. The players all sing, dance, tell stories and jokes, and the result are performances that have an anarchic, organic spirit all their own.
Until now Eike has kept the Alehouse Sessions strictly as live events but the project’s 10th anniversary has finally generated a studio recording. Inevitably some of that concert atmosphere, the back and-forth repartee, is gone, but instead those interactions and conversations are dissolved into the music itself. There’s humour and plenty of back-chat in the muscular shanties ‘Haul away Joe’ and ‘Pass around the grog’, fleet-footed folk fiddling and irresistibly syncopated rhythms in the Travel Set and the Canadian Set – each weaving together a sequence of traditional tunes – while ballads such as the lovely ‘I drew my ship’ (exquisitely arranged by Eike himself for soloist Tom Guthrie and cloudy strings, bright-flecked with harmonics) give welcome moments of pause and pathos.
But perhaps most exciting are the relationships the disc establishes between Purcell’s music and the nicely spoken melodies from Playford’s English Dancing Master and their bastard musical relations in other genres. There’s a wonderfully egalitarian quality to music-making that weaves its way from court to dockyard to tavern without pause. Good music is, after all, good music, whatever its colour, creed or accent.