Emil de Waal: Handmade In Denmark

Danish drummer leads instruments including clarinet and banjo in a bittersweet hodgepodge of “Danish” Americana, folksy tunes and TV themes

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It’s not every day that you hear clarinet lines like those by Johnny Dodds embedded in a soundscape that has less to do with jazz than the bucolic realm of the lamented alt-pop hero Sparklehorse. Yet that’s exactly the vibe of drummer Emil de Waal’s Handmade In Denmark, which was self-released in 2015 and now repackaged by April Records for international release.

Clarinetist Elith “Nulle” Nykjaer was aged 80 at the time of this recording, currently 85. His melodic playing is the tie that binds a bittersweet hodgepodge of “Danish” Americana, folksy tunes and TV themes. De Waal, keyboardist Søren Kjaergaard and multi-instrumentalist Gustaf Ljunggren further complete a songbook that requires a focus on expression and authenticity instead of extended improvisation, a task that these men perform very well.

Their inclusion of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound Of Silence immediately catches the eye and the ear. Yet it is by no means anomalous and perfectly fits the album’s glove, moving at a gentle, slow pace in a vein that reveals affinity with Nashville skylines. It is introduced by De Waal’s agile handling of a tin-can music box, a form of high-quality quirkiness that is repeated succinctly at spots throughout the album, notably on Dukko which links back porch banjo to turbulent clarinet phrases. More spicy flavours mark the folk-classical party tune Den Dumme Prins, which features a rousing exchange of keyboard and pleasantly off-kilter drums.

The Danish TV tune Cirkeline impresses as a lullaby that segues into a Fairport Convention-ish coda. Min Nordische Bror is Nykjaer’s finest hour, a pensive story so powerful that the barley suddenly starts waving in the windless weather. Blues romp Almerida is the least interesting tune of an otherwise compelling album that is at once eclectic and organic, audacious and serene.

Discography
Handmark In Denmark; Christiania; The Sound Of Silence; Dukko; Cirkeline; Min Nordeske Bror/Almerida; Gräns; Den Dumme Prins (55.68)
Emil de Waal (d, pc, music box); Elith “Nulle” Nykjaer (cl); Søren Kjaergaard (kyb); Gustaf Ljunggren (banjo, g, ts). Copenhagen, 14 September 2014.
April Records 101