A trio comprising singer Alex Ross, fellow multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Bidgood and bass player Ian Paterson, their name is taken from the Danish word for sea and Haar from the meteorological phenomenon of a coastal fog that appears as cold air from the North Sea meets warmer air at the edge of land, known as a sea fret, the album exploring what is shrouded and what revealed when the fog rolls in and out.
Initially recorded in Tuscany and rural Catalonia, it’s a musically dense, intensive experience that plays out a single work in six parts, with running times varying from five-and-a-half minutes to nine with influences embracing Massive Attack, Olafur Arnalds, Scottish/Scandinavian folk and featuring field recordings, sound manipulation and looped tapes.
It opens with its shortest number, distant voices, creaks, birdsong and waves introducing the ‘Broken Piano Song’ with its tentative keyboard notes gradually complemented by ambient sounds evoking a gathering storm. There’s even more ambient textures on ‘Saint-Valery’, which starts out with distant, minimal keyboard notes before the musical swell builds, vocals and drone crafting the atmosphere on lyrics about loss, returning to the narrator’s hometown and a chance encounter.
Again sparsely arranged, ‘Tuscany’ is an ebb and flow piano-based instrumental coloured by fiddle and double-bass, building to a crescendo in the final stretch before fading into the mist. The first of two guest female vocal contributions comes from Scottish traditional singer Iona Fyfe who does the honours in the minimalist piano-based ‘Alabama’, a song that, swelling with strings and accordion as her voice soars, unfolds the 1868 tragedy at sea of the titular fishing boat out of the Morayshire port of Buckie.
Played out on piano, mournful fiddle and double bass, the longest number is ‘Slangpolska’, titled for a form of Swedish folk-dance, the instrumental prelude giving way to a distantly voiced native tongue rendition of ‘Rakkaus on Lepo’ (or ‘Love Is Rest’) from Finnish poet Eeva Kilpi. It ends, then, back in Scotland with the trio joined in a duet by Bridie Jackson for an eight-minute pulsing and shimmering arrangement of the traditional ‘A Garten Mother’s Lullaby’ that again envelops the number in atmospheric effects to underscore the sentiment and complement Jackson’s, the mid-section nodding to those Massive Attack influences.
Haar is an immersive experience that requires you to listen to the piece as a whole with no distractions, ideally in a darkened room with a glass of malt to hand, it is a glowing testament to Ross’s ability as composer and songwriter, as well as the fluidity of the trio’s musical tapestries.
Artists’ website: www.havband.co.uk
‘The Alabama’ – official video: