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Miscellaneous - Under the Radar

  by Keith How

published: 6 / 11 / 2019

Miscellaneous - Under the Radar


In this edition of his 'Under the Radar' column, in which he searches out under-rated and little known bands, Keith How finds himself returning to Finland, a trip with some musical discoveries and chance encounters.

Who could resist an invitation to a film festival? Sounds great says I. Where is the venue? Lapland! So, I am heading to visit my great friend John Rogers, potter and all round top geezer, who lives in Finland, and whose idea the jaunt is. Before we head off above the Arctic Circle into Saami Lapland for The Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankyla, John has a plan. We arrive in Pori, home of the marvellous Pori Jazz Festival, and head to the local library. I am amazed at the super extensive content here. With books, CDs and records, it is a modern and huge library and a really refreshing experience .”You have to meet Jyrki,” says John . Meet him I do in the basement of the library where corridors wander off in strange directions and are seemingly endless. It is here where Jyrki Laiho hosts an underground (literally) jazz club and seems to be a legend in these parts. Jyrki is just brilliant. Friendly and knowledgable, he gives me the lowdown on his gigs and we rap about Wigwam, a Finnish band, who almost made it big with the album 'Nuclear Nightclub', which was released in 1975 (I think). It turns out that Jyrki is also a bit of a musical celebrity, having played with two of my favourite Finnish bands, Circle and Kuusumun Profeetta. He also keeps a rather tasty selection of albums in his lair which, naturally, take my eye. I am rather keen to find something interesting and Finnish. Jyrki makes a couple of suggestions and I am happy to take his recommendations without listening. 'Otava' by Sami Kukka & Poly turns out to be an intriguing mix of folky pop with a little progressive edge. Lyrically I don’t have a clue as my Finnish vocabularly consists of “kitos” (thank you) and “moi” (hello). Musically the eleven track album is a very satisfying listen that takes you to another world. In places there are echoes of Nick Drake and mid-70's folk rock. Other songs, such as for example track 5 'On Kirkas', are dark and mysterious. In 'Otava', while released in 2015, I hear references in some corners of today's alt/folk underground and the album is simply delightful. 'Armor Gravil Fernum' by Aki Peltonen is a candidate for the strangest album cover of all time that sees (I think) accordionist Aki Peltonen in a leather jacket holding a shotgun! I had asked Jyrki for something contemporary and slightly unusual. He did not disappoint. Aki Peltonan plays the accordion, and is accompanied by bass and strings and a small choir. His album is an intriguing blend of traditional Finnish folk stylings with a modern edge. I have never heard anything quite like this before. There is nothing hurried about the album which really found a place in my heart during our long overnight drive to the Midnight Sun on the E75 trunk road. The accordion is atmospheric and airy, while the lovely double bass holds everything together. A male voice choir is an added surprise, rather like finding you have jam inside your donut instead of custard. Unexpected but perfect. The orchestral parts are cinematic throughout along with very minimal percussion. I discovered later that 'Armor Gravil Fernum' was originally recorded in 2015. The fusion of folk and jazz really works with each composition clocking in at around seven minutes. Track 2 'Apotheosis' is a highlight and possibly the axis for the album, which reflects the vast skies and endless forests of this mysterious country. Jyrki’s parting gift is the icing on my cake. 'Unbalance' by the Riko Goto Trio is as finer example of Scandinavian contemporary jazz as you might find. Restrained, minimal and mostly gentle, 'Unbalanced' is terrific, and is serene, almost magical and occasionally straying into the avant garde. Crystal clear production allows the album to meander from track to track, telling the story of nature flowing from winter into spring. Captivating and intoxicating, this is a real late night gem. Bliss. On our return from Sodankyla and the Midnight Sun Film Festival the plan was to spend a day or two checking out the scene in Tampere where I hoped to fall upon some Finnish Forest Folk albums. Instead while browsing in Levykauppa AX record emporium we met a lovely woman, who had just seen the film 'Rocket Man' and was buying every Elton John CD she could find. It turns out that Tuija Kervinen has her own blog and was researching the works of Sir Elton. We had a lovely conversation now partly reported on her blog (https:mrsdallowayscoffeebreak.blogspot.com/2019/06/are-we-rolling-meeting-of-mids.html). Chance meetings are wonderful and Tuija, complete with freshly shorn hair, was knowledgable, enthusiastic and downright nice. Check out her blog if you have a moment. The record shop was bulging with stock and decision making was difficult. I was really tempted by the Death Hawks' latest release and had limited myself to two albums. It was after chatting with Tuija that I fell upon a whole rack devoted to Svart Records. Svart is a Finnish label that holds a great deal of death metal, dark metal and, well, some other scary stuff but often re-releases rare and unusual albums and guess what! Yep, I struck (Keith) gold. On beautiful clear vinyl 'Summer Games' is Finnish guitarist Jukka Tolonen’s wonderful acoustic album released in 1973. 'Summer Games'is a mellow affair, slightly jazzy at times and perfectly captures the mood of mid ‘70s. Tolonen puts aside his more electric/fusion tendencies here and produced this all too short beauty. Ranging from the pastoral flavoured title track to the more uptempo 'Impressions of India', this was a real find. My other success was 'Continuity' by Joe Davidow, which is an ultra rare spiritual jazz LP from 1978 on Love Records before they went bankrupt. Svart Records have lovingly re-released this gem. Davodow had left New York and travelled throughout Europe, before recording this fine album with some of Finland's finest musicians. 'Continuity' is a free-flowing masterpiece with hints of free jazz, progressive rock and electronic soundscapes. How was it missed first time around? As you might guess, I was one happy guy as I boarded my plane back to England. This was my fifth trip to the land of lakes and forests, and a little part of me loves that place. You know what? Some of the silence has lodged inside me too.

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Miscellaneous - Under the Radar

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