An interesting fact is that Trondheim Kammermusikkfestival (Trondheim Chamber Music Festival) did propose that the works should be done with a chamber orchestra rather than a quintet, as originally planned. Along with Erik Nylander, Ole Morten Vågan, Petter Vågan, and Even Helte Hermansen, the Trondheimssolistene (The Trondheim Soloists) makes the work of art even bigger, stronger and more daring than with a simpler setup.
When listening to a record, only should have two things in mind. One is the title of the record - does the title set the mood for the record, or is this something that needs to be resolved by the listener? The second thing to take into account is the album cover artwork. When looking at the cover before playing the album for the first time - will the cover cover the albums intention - or will it just be some random image not underpinning the album, but rather invite the listener's mind and fantasy to explore?
Of course - if both the title and the cover do their jobs, we have a winner - and in The Mechanical Fair - we really do. I really liked the cover before I started the first track. The artwork is quite complex, and I imagine that it is best enjoyed on a vinyl-sized print. Unfortunately, it's only available on CD, iTunes and on streaming services. I think that Jazzland Recordings should release the cover as an A0 sized print.
The album is clearly divided into two - part one (first 4 tracks) is The Mechanical Fair. The second part is something else - and is aptly portrayed on the bottom half of the cover.
The cover gave me great anticipations on what to expect, and when the Mechanical Fair track rolled into my ear channels I really saw where the cover came from. The track really matches that artwork. Actually, the track matches the top character of the artwork - The Guy On Top (I assume it's not a woman in drag). The track is complex compared to some of the other tracks present - like the machinery controlled by The Guy. Listening to this track, you get a feeling being at one of those fairgrounds that might seems fun at first sight, but also scare small children away from ever taking any rollercoaster in the future. It starts very light and happy. We enjoy the flags in the wind on top of long barbershop painted poles. We run around - taking it all in. Then around 3 minutes into the visit, we are on our first ride: The Choo-choo train. The train takes us into a green lush landscape (mainly thanks to the singing voices and rhythm found at the bottom of the soundscape). After we have taken the train - or maybe after the train derails, throwing us into the ground, given how disoriented the music makes us feel - we are ready for more excursions on the fair ground.
Alarums and Excursions is a soft, laid back track, which is an excellent successor of the first track. If this was an album set in the Elizabethan area, we would expect soldiers. However, given that the track is not set in this area the track title does not match the excitement and feverish activity the title indicates (according to Merriam-Webster). The track is simply too nice in this context. This is not the album’s strongest track - but it is a good bridge between the first and the third track. If the track were not there, something would have been lacking on the amusement ground.
The binary sound of Dualist is indeed amusing. It switches between hordes of marching people, and people in love walking hand in hand. I really loved the softer part of this track - so much that I simply had to extract the soothing parts and put them on replay. It is that beautiful. It should strike you in your heart as something too lovely to be trampled on by the hordes of marching people. Alas, that does not happen when the marching people return later in the track. Now they are not marching anymore - they are dancing, perhaps celebrating love.
The beautiful track of Jaja continues where the previous track landed. All in all, this album is constructed in such a way that one simply cannot skip any of its tracks. Doing that will make you lose the continuum of the whole album. This track constitutes over 6 minutes of beautiful chamber music. If you haven't heard much chamber music before, this track give you a very smooth introduction to that kind of soundscape. The whole track winds down to a duet between two unlikely string instruments with the backing of the whole ensemble. If it was a Sunday, this is the kind of music you would like to wake up to.
Between Jaja and Penrose Walk is a needed audio pause, as it would not make sense to make these two tunes morph into each other.
Penrose Walk is scary - and is also found on the upper right corner of the artwork. Nightmarish, I would say. Do not be fooled by the cuddly start. This track also marks the end of the visit to the mechanical fair.
I adore Metamechanics. This is a track one can be put on repeat and just cosy-up in the sofa under blanket, reading a novelisation of Distant Voices, Still lives. The first part of this track is really balsam for your soul, springing into some mechanical peak - and then into an upbeat landscape of pure sunshine. One thing to listen out for in the soundscape is Kvernberg's roots in folk music. They really shine through here. This might be the album's strongest track.
In Harlot's house it's always warm, and the fireplace is lit. I would like to live there. It's a perfect place for books and interesting discussion about the arts. It is so warm - so fuzzy. Looking at the cover, the character inside the contraption is personified by this track. This might also be the album's strongest track.
With so many tracks jockeying for the "strongest track" position, it is clear that this a very srong album, and well worth your time.
The factsAll compositions and arrangements by Ola Kvernberg.
Produced by Ola Kvernberg and Erik Nylander.
Mechanical Fair was recorded at Ocean Sound Studio, Giske, by Henning Vatne Svoren, April 26-30, 2014.
The Trondheim Soloists was recorded at Øra Studios in Trondheim by Jo Ran- heim, Aug. 5-7, 2014. Additional record- ings by Ola Kvernberg at Møllenberg. Mixed and mastered by Morten Sten- dahl and Ola Kvernberg at Redroom Studios, Aug. 25-28 and Sep. 1-3. Post production editing by Ola Kvernberg. Front cover artwork by Rune Mathisen, additional cover artwork
by Trond Aslak Øvrum/Tibe.