The Alehouse Sessions: Barokksolistene’s improvisations on music from the English 17th-century tavern

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COMPOSERS: Various composers
LABELS: Rubicon
ALBUM TITLE: The Alehouse Sessions
WORKS: Improvisations on music from the English 17th-century tavern
PERFORMER: Bjarte Eike (violin); Barokksolistene
CATALOGUE NO: RCD 1017

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There’s no danger that Norway’s Barokksolistene will be abandoning the day job any time soon. But for the past decade the enterprising period instrument ensemble, directed by Bjarte Eike, has been moonlighting with ‘alehouse sessions’ raising a glass or three to the boozy world of music-making to be found in the taverns where Henry Purcell and his contemporaries liked to unwind. It’s not just the beer that’s subject to a good mash-up! A smattering of Purcell, dances from Playford’s Dancing Master, shanties, reels and ballads succumb to a nine-piece ensemble drawing on Baroque, jazz and folk styles for a no holds barred hooley of riotous improvisatory give and take. 

Translation from the metaphorical fuggy fumes of the tavern to the recording studio might not have dampened spirits, but there’s arguably a sense that everyone’s on best behaviour. Sassy resprays of Playford and Purcell’s Curtain Tune from Timon of Athens bode well, but there’s a degree of micro-manicure that can leave things over glossy and self consciously ‘knowing’. Is the humming in Jonny Faa atmospheric or a tad cheesy? That said, a funk-meets-folk take on Playford salutes The Virgin Queen, and ‘The Canadian set’ fairly fizzes. The result is more gastropub than spit-and-sawdust hostelry, but ‘cheers’ all the same! 

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Paul Riley