It’s hard to believe this is the first studio album from SANS. There was a live album in 2014, and before that all the musicians had appeared on leader Andrew Cronshaw’s The Unbroken Surface Of Snow. But the slightly expanded group, now a quintet, make music that seems as if they’ve simply dived deep into time. The mix of kanteles, zithers, voices, duduk, saxes and clarinets works with a natural, organic inevitability, and the music doesn’t so much unfold as curl off into a gorgeous distance. It has a wonderfully meditative quality, the voices of Sanna Kurki-Suonio and her daughter Erika Hammarberg shifting between harmonies that are ethereal and softly dissonant (as on Pursi – The Rowing Song), while Astele Oro carries echoes of Kurki-Suonio’s former band, Hedningarna.

Vocal or instrumental, it’s music that breathes, played without ego, finding whatever serves the song or the melody. Everything feels utterly natural, whether it’s just a few musicians on a track or the entire ensemble. But although it sometimes seems delicate, almost elusive, there’s a very studied foundation, built on years of playing together and pushing gently at the boundaries where cultures entwine. Some pieces, like Kazvatti, take on an almost liturgical quality in the singing, a sacred hush that’s only intensified by the gently ringing kantele between verses. Kulku is lullingly melodic and softly adventurous, one that peers into the shady corners and finds the beauty, drawing it out into the light. An absolute triumph.

Hear a track on this issue’s fRoots 70 compilation. | Photo credit: Jim Sutherland