It’s been a while since Afenginn released a new album – if you discount the re-recording of old favourites for their ‘best of’ collection, Bastard Etno
. Since then there have been a few changes, including a new bass player and the sobriety of leader/mandolin player/ composer Kim Rafael Nyberg. That has its inevitable reflection in the music, for the most part calmer and far more melodic, with Nyberg’s mandolin far more prominent than it has been on previous discs. It’s not so much as record of individual tracks, but an extended piece, where one movement segues quite seamlessly into the next, quite orchestral in its scope and ambition – and succeeding. There’s ebb and flow – Hostbar, for instance, builds to a gorgeous peak with Rasmus Krøyer’s clarinet until mandolin arpeggios lead into Höstbvisa 1, with a theme that could almost have come from fin de Siècle
with its lulling waltz rhythm. The addition of a few guests adds more texture and colour to the music, but they’re used sparingly, like the trombone and marimba in Septem Turbido – Höstbvisa 2. While not outwardly the band’s most adventurous outing (that was probably Reptilica Polaris with its male voice choir), it’s the most satisfying, with a maturity in the writing and a sense of playing to the strengths of all the members, of developing the themes and creating delicious little variations that thread together with great beauty. Where Afenginn used to have great flippancy, they’ve become more serious, but that’s not a bad thing when faced with something quite demanding. And it’s not all sailing on placid waters. Obscare edges into Stravinsky territory, with lurch rhythms and surprises, with beauty and a hefty stomp, melody and sharp dissonance, moving side by side to a resolution, coming as a stragen, disorienting interlude in the proceedings. Autumnus Elegia lives up to its title, melancholic minor-key piano work from guest Nikolaj Busk in a piece curiously reminiscent of Beethoven without the pomp, then adding gypsy violin, vibes and clarinet to the stew as it morphs into Missa Tripus. It’s an album to delight and astonish, and easily the best of their career, taking them further and further from any pigeonhole? Definitely not Danish, other than most of the musicians, not folk, not jazz, not quite classical. It’s Afenginn music. And, as ever, the packaging is wonderful.