Tania Opland
& Mike Freeman,
Cut to Rhythms
(self-produced, 2000)

Hammered dulcimer, Gambian djembe, violin, cittern, Kiowa flute and fish skin darabouka are just some of the instruments Tania Opland and Mike Freeman, a self-described Anglo-Alaskan, cross-cultural, multi-instrumental, poly-rhythmic duo, embrace with dexterity and ardor on their truly unique collaboration Cut to Rhythms.

Originally from Alaska and now living on an Indian reservation in Washington, Opland has traveled extensively in the U.S., Canada, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Britain, and her vast repertoire, complete with five solo albums, reflects the diversity of the communities whose music she has shared. Born and raised in Manchester, England, and now residing in Kilkenny, Ireland, Freeman has played guitar and percussion with an assortment of bands, accompanied Middle Eastern and African dance troupes and performed at countless festivals throughout Britain.

Though released in 2000, the 14-track Cut to Rhythms, with its diverse instrumentation, rhythmic roots from Siberia to Morocco, and lyrics in obscure foreign languages, evokes the withered shadows of voices and faces from ages and regions long since forgotten. In the atypical collection of jigs, reels, waltzes and folk songs that comprise this CD, Opland and Freeman's distinct musical backgrounds behave like reunited soulmates, blooming with recognition and remembrance.

Freeman's primary instrument is the Gambian djembe, from which he draws an amazing variety of sounds. He displays equal proficiency in the dholak, darabouka, bodhran and congas, as is apparent in his performance on the CD's title track. Opland's main instruments are an unusual blond violin handmade by Eskimo craftsman Frank Hobson, an early Larrivee guitar and Kiowa flutes. Traces of her early classical training can best be identified on the Irish reel medley "The Merry Blacksmith/Heathery Cruach/Paddy O'Brien's," the tribute to Ole Blindheim and Paul Roseland "Styrman's Waltz/Lokkerin," and the farewell jig "Marylou Murphy's." Opland's experimentation with more exotic instruments, such as the hammered dulcimer, takes shape on an arrangement learned in Uzbekistan in 1988, "Andijan," and on "Cut to Rhythms" with her use of Kiowa flutes.

Although the instrumentation and intricate percussive elements are the most easily recognizable dynamic of "Cut to Rhythms," equally crucial to the success of the recordings are the subtle textures and flavors added by Opland's vocal abilities. Opland's voice is delicately laced with a haunting and supple quality in her rendition of "Come All You Fair & Tender Ladies," the classic Cecil Sharp folk ballad of 1916. She then turns bold, brooding and bluesy in Susan Welch's "Bound Away." Her vocal versatility, exhibited by an ability to sing in approximately a dozen foreign languages, is showcased on Cut to Rhythms in the popular Macedonian love song "Jovano, Jovanke" and her interpretation of the classic Russian folk song "Katyusha." In the Danny Carnahan tale of a magical, inter-worldly romance "Borderlands" and the English cross-dressing sailor song "Jack Monroe," Opland's vocals possess all the strength and proficiency of characterization required of a true folk ballad vocalist.

If indeed the spirits of Tania Opland and Mike Freeman were fated by some whimsical muse to be carried on ancient winds across oceans of time to the here and now for the sole purpose of collaborating on Cut to Rhythms, no destiny has sounded sweeter.

[ by Jeff Callahan ]
Rambles: 16 March 2002