Listen to two songs, Hyljätty & Humalapuu from Tango Orkesteri Unto
Dark Wings of the Night review by Fiona Talkington/Songlines, 2015
Star-studded supergroup of Finnish tango
There’s something dark and secretive about Finnish tango; that is its great attraction. Listen to archive recordings from the 40s and it’s clearly a musical world unlike any other. Tango is certainly alive and well in Finland today, which hosts an annual tango festival in Seinäjoki attracting over 100,000 visitors every year.
Tango-Orkesteri Unto are named after legendary Finnish tango composer Unto Mononen and in Dark Wings of the Night they’ve released their best album to date. The members of the orchestra are all prominent performers of the Finnish music scene: the great pianist and composer Timo Alakotila, accordion superstar Johanna Juhola, Mauno Järvelä from JPP and bassist Hannu Rantanen. There’s exquisite guitar playing from Petri Hakala and warm vocals from Pirjo Aittomäki. As well as some cornerstones of the tango repertoire, there are new compositions too, such as Juhola’s restless account of argument and reconciliation in ‘Huudetaan’ or Timo Alakotila’s 7/8 tango ‘Humalapuu’ – which is, just for once, happy tango music.
JPP Skywire review by Fiona Talkington/Songlines July 2015
As a live experience, JPP are hard to beat. They’ve been together for over 30 years, having grown up in the Kaustinen
region, the fiddling heart of Finland, and they have long been playing tunes from the area and from further across Finland. As their worldwide reputation grew they built new compositions into their repertoire. Harmonium and piano player Timo Alakotila and fiddler Arto Järvela write a lot of JPP’s material, as well has pursuing their own solo and collaborative careers. Six fiddles, harmonium and double bass make up the band, with the fiddles’ exceptional phrasing and tone being the trademark sound. Letting loose on traditional tunes, they manage to weave in surprising harmonic shifts together with breathtaking dance rhythms. The earthy, percussive and haunting harmonium sounds are, in the hands of Alakotila, faultless and always inspiring; Timo Myllykangas, on bass, adds brilliance and mischief.
A new JPP album is always welcome, and this one mixes arrangements
of traditional melodies with new compositions. ‘Kohti Pispalaa’ is a typical whirlwind of brilliance and joy, ‘Hiuuih’ simply urges you to dance, though its rhythms are not for the
faint-hearted, and the opening march ‘Morsiusfatimarssi’ is a reminder of just how well they blend energy and poignancy. JPP have done it again.
TRACK TO TRY: Kohti Pispalaa
Maria Kalaniemi & Timo Alakotila Duo Åkerö review in Sing Out, 2013
Sing Out, aug 2013
Though Finnish master musicians Maria Kalaniemi and Timo Alakotila both play in many bands, something remarkable happens when they strip the music down to duets. The chemistry between the two emerges, creating a sound that is incredibly warm and intimate.On Åkerö — their first album as a duo since 2001’s Ambra — Kalaniemi (free-bass, five-row, button accordion) and Alakotila (pianist best known for his work with JPP) play like one musician. Their intricate arrangements showcase a wide dynamic range, from bold climaxes to subtle pauses.
There’s probably no better example of this than the title track. It opens the album with the accordion playing both melody and counter melody as Alakotila’s piano enters almost imperceptibly, slowly growing in intensity. The music crescendos and decrescendos, continually and dramatically changing direction but always returning to the anchor of the opening melodies — all in a stunning five minutes.
Where “Åkerö” is a bit of a roller coaster, “Yötuulet” is quiet and slightly melancholy. The brief silences between phrases make the breathing of the bellows seem human to the point of empathy
Åkerö also offers some surprises. Kalaniemi, not known as a vocalist, brings a pure, clear voice to “Koskaan Et Muuttua Saa.” A song of heartbreak, this interpretation would feel at home in a cabaret or music hall. In sharp contrast, “Viola” brings in drums and a horn section to create something akin to a New Orleans jazz band taking on Finnish dance music. Oddly, it not only works but does so with such joy that you can almost hear the musicians smiling.
Åkerö is aptly titled, named for what Kalaniemi describes as the “best tasting apple, sweet and sour at same time.” Like the apple, it’s a delicate balance of styles, dynamics, and emotions.