Matka (The Path)
(2020 - Bafe's Factory - Finland)
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A nice line up of J-P Piirainen (acoustic guitar), Venla Ilona Blom (beatboxing, vocals ), and when live, a dance ensemble that completes the concept of making a great bond between music and dance. A superior guitarist mainly known for his folk and world styles on fingerstyle acoustic guitar, Piirainen has solo albums that fans of John Renbourne and that class will love (see my review of his solo 'Twined' -2017, which also had guest spots by Blom). You may know Blom for her performances in the magnificent Finnish folk-beat fusion ensemble Tuuletar, and is also an educator and amazing vocalist who often uses beatbox and voice effects to create even more dimensions. Other musicians who guest on some tracks are Tommi Asplund: fiddle/ Alina Järvelä: fiddle/ Tero Hyväluoma: fiddle/ Esko Järvelä: fiddle/ and Viivi Maria Saarenkylä: accordion.
First off, the music on 'Matka' is full of pleasure. The spirit of dance brings much of that about. With folk based music from each and every country, you have what will appear to the common ear, things most easily associated such as other similar genres. So many will love this recording for instance if they love traditional and modern Irish folk. It has gigs and reels that one can identify with. Of course the more attentive and studied listeners will pick up differences with the regional touches which are born and bred of various elements, such as cultural, types of instruments (sometimes being a difference of types of wood or other materials used to make them), nuances, technique, and point of view. The list goes on, so unless I wrote a book on that topic alone, I could never cover all the subtle and/or drastic separations between music. This to say that this duo brings a flavor of several styles into the arena. Piirainen/Blom/Company wanted most of all the bring dance closer into the music, interchanging them and interlocking the beauty of the rhythmic compliments to each other. They say it nicely in the notes "We have a passion and deep longing in our hearts to find a deeper connection between music and dance. Music makes us move and dancing makes us hear music. There is no border between - only art and life." There are more well worded notes for each song in the booklet that comes with the physical six panel digipak.
The opening moments of the album are haunting with what sounds like a deep dronish cello or keyboard sample, with vocals rising up into a smooth epic climax. As short as the intro is, the statement is strong and grabs the listener instantly. What follows is far more enticing than anyone might guess, as too many will automatically stereotype a dance and music project with being lively, fun, and quick. But the mix of gorgeous music that could make you cry at a movie, just as the peak of the sadness is about to present itself, also brings about that full array of emotions, aka the pleasure I spoke of at the beginning of earlier. The third song ('Kuiskaaja' - Whisperer) has the dance element but not in the way the western world would think of it. No urban elements except for Blom's beatbox and rhythmic voice effect, are present. The strings are sweetly both classical and folk, and Pirainnen's acoustic guitar is superbly both flamenco, folk, and world all at the same time. Then comes a truly beautiful Irish air called 'Pieni Irlannitar' - My Irish Flower) that will challenge you to eargasm. Giant strings, immaculate guitar work, and an angel's vocal part by Blom that will melt the most hardened heart.
Before I go further, big accolades must go to Jyri Sariola who did a tremendous job of producing, mixing and mastering this masterpiece. I found new things to the ears with each additional listen. Being captivated from the first note to the final is a mark of being classic, stately, and a recording that one runs down the street yelling out it's virtues. For the clap and celebrative song among the lot, listen to track six ('Unohdetuille' - For The Unknown Heroes) with the upbeat and nearly foot stomping feel. But just as this is done, comes another sweet and sad epic title 'Kotona' (Home), all instrumental and deeply emotional with more tearful strings. Very big indeed, sure to attract filmmakers for a soundtrack part. So for the unfamiliar, are you now convinced this is not some ordinary dance and music record?
Not done yet with the ever enduring pieces, track eight ('Aparan Laulu' - Bastards' Path) is one more just so opulent with stunning vocals, special touches (that will remind you of Kate Bush's 'Hounds of Love' period), deep strings, huge swells, and strong chords, it leaves you speechless. The album makes the final say with 'Kivenpyorittaja' - The One Who Rolled The Stone). Crafted expertly like the other gems, this has a 3/4 time done in a very crafty way and not your waltz square box. Yes it may be argued as a 6/8 but again, that is with western ears. The fact is I spoke to the composer (J-P Piirainen) himself and he informed me it was a mazurka (in Polish mazurek, plural mazurki) type of folk tradition. This is of course a Polish folk dance in triple meter, usually at a lively tempo, and with "strong accents unsystematically placed on the second or third beat". So although fast, and one can count 6 pulses per measure (what you hear as a measure), it is in fact 3/4 time. An exchange of strong accents, downbeat feet using the stage as a drum, acoustic finger picking to write home about, and a lively wake-the- dead presence. No doubt a grand way to end the album. I found myself amazed about the entire recording. It is monumental in the scope and execution. An absolute 10 on the chart and a place on my TOP CHOICES OF 2020 list. MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.