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Draupner: Draupner (Caprice). Traditional music is flourishing in Ireland at the moment, but Sweden and Norway are enjoying what may well be remembered as a Golden Age. After the folk revival got going in Scandinavia in the '60s, it seemed to have taken almost a generation for younger players to develop backing styles appropriate for the fiddle music that was traditionally performed solo or duo. In Draupner, we have a working trio of very young players; they evince a deep feeling for tradition and an understanding of what is appropriate to add to the music they play. Draupner's Tomas Lindberg has a very advanced approach to playing with fiddlers that goes beyond what could be called backing. This is a stunning program of achingly beautiful tunes, brilliantly arranged and played with feeling and fire.

Erisson, Nygards, Talroth: Klacklek (Giga). While Draupner plays music from one Swedish region, Halsingland, the musicians on Klacklek come from Dalarna, Varmland, and Stockholm. David Talroth's approach is similar to Tomas Lindberg's; both groups have very distinctive sounds. While Draupner is more regional in style, the trio is less conservative than Talroth's. Anyone with any interest in or even curiosity about Scandinavian fiddle music should pick up both records without hesitation. The Giga release may be hard to find, but giga.folkmusik@giga.w.se will get the job done.

John Johnson: Strange Creek Fiddling 1947 (West Virginia University Press). West Virginia University Press only puts out one CD or so every year, but the three it's issued so far are all spectacular, arguable choices for Top Ten of the year as well as serious nominations for Top Ten period, at least so far as old-time fiddling is concerned. The first two WVUP releases were dedicated to the legendary Edden Hammonds; this year's entry features John Johnson, who as a young man traveled far from his native state and forged a unique style that combines elements from archaic players like Hammonds and the more modern "long-bow" style. Johnson's only previous release recording is full of fun and fire, but these 1947 field recordings are breathtaking. A revelation for old-time fans.

Shujaat Khan and Tejendra Narayan Majumdar:Raga Lalit (India Archive). Western avant-gardists have the unfortunate tendency to underestimate the Indian classical tradition because it isn't "new," but for sheer beauty only the greatest jazz musicians can rival these improvisers. Sarod player Tejendra Narayan Majumdar is considered a creditable heir to the great Ali Akbar Khan, though one can tell that he has studied sitarists like Nikhail Banarjee and Vilayat Khan. The son of the latter is heard with Majumdar on Raga Lalit, perhaps the best classical duo recording that this writer has heard. The duo format is really contrary to the improvisatory nature of the music, and only real masters can make us forget the disadvantages inherent in the form, but Khan and Majumdar are more than equal to the task.

Charlie Kohlhase Quintet with Roswell Rudd: Eventuality (Nada). For a long time, Roswell Rudd managed only infrequent recordings, but the trombonist-composer has made up for lost time in recent years, reuniting with Archie Shepp, the New York Art Quartet, and Steve Lacy. This recording with Charlie Kohlhase's group might slip through the cracks, which would be a pity, because it's one of the best of all. Kohlhase, a Boston-based reedman, is a confident interpreter of a stylistic range reaching from harmonically advanced hard-bop to free form. Here he has to stretch further, as Roswell leads the group on a romp that covers everything from Dixieland and bluesy tunes to a hilarious version of "All of Me" with a bop head and a great Rudd vocal on French lyrics.

Mat Maneri: Trinity (ECM). Mat Maneri is perhaps the most impressive of the violinists searching to bridge the gap between free jazz and contemporary classical music. His playing often sounds like a series of unconnected feints and abstractions that begin unexpectedly and veer into silence almost as soon as they're tracked by the ear. He strikes an uneasy balance between total abstraction and anything you could call melodic, masterfully maintaining the tension created in the process. The music on Trinity is stark and uncompromising, but listeners attuned to modern music will find it full of grace and compressed passion.

Herbie Nichols Project: Strange City (Palmetto). This most interesting of repertory groups is dedicated to the recreation of music by the great pianist/composer Herbie Nichols, who coincidentally was a mentor to Roswell Rudd in the early '60s. Each Project record has surpassed the last, but this third effort sets a standard that may be hard to better. The focus here is on tunes that Nichols never recorded, though a few have been heard on Rudd's Unheard Herbie Nichols CDs. It's sometimes hard to envision what the composer had in mind from the lead sheets he left behind, but in the hands of the Herbie Nichols Project the music comes to life, offering new appreciation of a lost genius who may finally be having his day.

Taraf de Haidouks: Band of Gypsies (Nonesuch). If there is a better Gypsy band than Taraf de Haidouks, this writer hasn't heard it. They have everything: virtuosic instrumental command, a rhythmic lift that has to be heard to be believed, and ensemble work that's tight but never overly polished. They play impossibly complex, high-velocity sequences exactly in sync, without ever sacrificing the gritty texture that separates folk musicians from those who ply the restaurant trade. Their new release was recorded live, and it is, if possible, even better than their studio recordings. Though they don't overtly push the limits of the music, they use every trick in the book to full effect, with great originality.

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