Helicon cultivates worldly folk music

December 20, 1990|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Evening Sun Staff

What would be more appropriate for a Winter Solstice Concert than a meeting of the Prodigy and the Titan? Translated, it is a musical encounter between Alison Krauss, the 19-year-old bluegrass whiz from Illinois, and Baltimore's Helicon, an instrumental trio whose latest album is entitled "The Titan."

Krauss with her band Union Station and Helicon perform at 8 tomorrow night in Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College.

For Helicon members Chris Norman, Ken Kolodner and Robin Bullock, the fifth Winter Solstice Concert salutes their Baltimore following and celebrates the release of a new album on the Turquoise label.

It also affirms their "mission statement" formulated in the band's van on the last tour. The mission, flutist Norman says, is "The cultivation and performance of traditional folk music from around the world."

On "The Titan," named after a three-part polka composed by Norman, Helicon fuses flute, fiddle, guitar, cittern, hammer dulcimer and viola into a transcendentally melodic palette of sounds. The album whirs through a reel like "The Reconciliation" at a breakneck pace unusual for hammer dulcimer. And it floats like a shroud of mist through Norman's "Nova Scotia January."

"We work for a real sculpted beauty," Norman says, defining Helicon's style. "Almost like a chamber group," Bullock adds, referring to the group's classically oriented focus on melody and technique.

To satisfy their quest for eclectic and obscure folk melodies, all three Helicon members draw from tinny, old, field recordings; works discovered by students; the energetic folk music underground; and from the composers themselves. In a little known publication edited by one aficionado, the group learned of the tunes "Mazurka Limousin" and "Bouree," both from a region in France where traditional hurdy-gurdy and bagpipe music endures.

On a recent trip to his native Nova Scotia, Norman picked up the very old "Waltz From Cape Breton," from fiddler Carl MacKenzie. On other international journeys, Helicon members travel equipped with tape recorder, instruments, pen and paper to collect the old music they hear in the labyrinthine web of ancient European streets.

Through medleys, and the album's sequence of songs, Helicon spins its disparate finds together in a textured skein of acoustic music that joins the old with the the New World with the Old World. For example, "In the Csitari Mountain Foothills," found in a collection of Hungarian folk music collected by Anton Kodaly and Bela Bartok, is merged in an opening medley with Robin Bullock's "The Storm Warning" in a way that makes the most of their common, folk music bond.

Traditional American music, as represented by Bill Monroe -- the "father of bluegrass" -- and Norman Blake, also nestles comfortably in "The Titan's" mix.

"The Titan" is Helicon's second album, and the first they did not produce and distribute on their own. Prior to the last release, called "Helicon," Norman and Kolodner, as a duo, recorded "Daybreak." With a new label, and a busy national tour schedule, Helicon is aiming for national recognition. But they also like to play in Baltimore, "more than any where else. People [here] really seem to like us," Norman says.

Tickets for the Winter Solstice concert are $15 at the door; $13 in advance. For information, call 243-7254 or 235-6429.

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