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Written in Folk Roots issue 79/80, 1990


Olarin Musiikki OMLP 26 (also cass.) (1989)

Niekku 3

Olarin Musiikki OMLP 27 (1989)


Olarin Musiikki OMLP 25 (also CD and cass.) (1989)

These three albums come from Digelius Music as examples of the new wave of enthusiasm in Finland for native music which is becoming apparent in record releases, media coverage and concert attendances (particularly at the long-established Kaustinen Festival).
      A flourishing tradition doesn't need to be acceptable or comprehensible to outsiders obviously one of the features of any regional tradition is that it makes most sense to the people of its own region - but there's enough here to suggest that some Finnish music will find an audience across the North Sea.

      Pirnales play the straightest version of traditional music of the three groups. The album opens with Perjatus, stated first on kantele, Finland's unfretted zither, which is joined by button accordion, jouhikko (a bowed instrument, a bit like a Welsh crwth but without a neck) and double bass, developing into a jam in fives. Track 2, a kantele trio with bass, is followed by Palpan Killi, the sort of song liable to prompt audience participation in any language. Further in, an unaccompanied song, more kantele, and a particularly fine tune, the 'menuette'' part of Kuortaneen Menuette ja Polska, like a flowing 6/4 waltz.

      There are fewer clear melodies on the Niekku album, and more improvisational work on traditional bases. Again, kanteles, often generating insistent rhythmic motifs, some unhinged, er, aleatoric accordion playing, then, in Tutti Frutti, a rather beautiful vocal piece. The group of five women are students at the Sibelius Academy, and it seems to me that there's rather too much scent of the music college about this album - careful, elegantly uttered but not fully confident vocals, accomplished but not melodically very powerful playing. Interesting, though, that Niekku seem to be becoming quite popular in live performance, which might well be the way to hear them.

      Finally to Salamakannel. The album is apparently being pretty widely noticed at home, and should attract some interest here, both for the excellence of the playing and for its eclecticism. It makes cross-references between American stringband music and Scandinavian fiddling, so that at times it could be identified as either or both. The band is led by Hannu Saha's kanteles and Arto Järvelä (of Järvelän Pikkupelimannit, who are also well worth a listen) on fiddle, with Kimmo Kansala on bass and guitarist Jussi Ala-Kuha, whose electric work burns a perfectly judged path through and around a tune, in sound and ability reminiscent of Dan ar Bras. The American feel is increased by Hannu Saha's bluesy harmonica and guest Seppo Sillanpää's banjo. Three tunes are traditional, the rest either band-composed or from other writers. Perhaps some are a little on the trite side, and the title track does have melodic similarities to a certain Human League hit of yesteryear, but, after all, there are only just so many simple chord sequences, and the wittiness and flexibility of the musicianship is what makes the album such a discovery.

      Olarin Musiikki's Timo Närväinen is responsible for a steady stream of well-made Finnish albums, which deserve to be taken on by a British distributor.

© 1989 Andrew Cronshaw

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