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Kimmo Pohjonen: Accordionist Extraordinaire

By Published: September 25, 2007
kimmo pohjonen

AAJ: You played with Arto Järvelä for a few years in Pinnin Pojat?

KP: I suppose that was an important transition period for me. We were both living in Helsinki, and we played a lot around Finland and Europe. We even had some tours of the Far East—India and Pakistan—and South America too. And of course this opened my eyes to other music.

AAJ: You really started to broaden your horizons then?

KP: Yes, you could say that! I listened at one time to lot of Tex-mex music—Queen Aida and Flaco Jimenez. And then there was an Argentinian period—Piazolla, Dino Saluzzi, Luis Di Matteo—and I visited there in the end of the 1980's too.

AAJ: So really, there have been phases of different influences.

KP: That's right. In those early days, I listened a lot to 1950's Finnish band music like Taito Vainio. And don't forget the time I spent in Africa, in the early 1990's in Tanzania. I played a lot of thumb piano there—the mbira!

AAJ: And around this time you also started to dabble in electronics?

KP: Well, even when I was playing with Arto, I had gotten interested in different effects and sounds. I had tried putting the accordion through a Leslie amp and used some guitar boxes too. But it really took a leap forward when we were invited to play as guests with one of Finland's first ethno-jazz groups, ZetaBoo. Some of them were also students at Sibelius Academy, and it was their guitarist, Jarmo Saari , who showed me his equipment [looping and sampling devices]. It hit me like a thunderbolt that I could use something similar, and with additional microphones too. This was just before I had my first solo concert around 1996, so I just had time to build up some simple effects to use there.

AAJ: And we can hear these effects on your first album, Kielo (Rockadillo Records, 1999)?

KP: Well, by that time I had been playing with Ismo Alanko's Säätiö for a while, and I had refined the sounds a little, I think. He is a very influential artist for my generation [the founding member of the defining Finnish punk band, Sielun Veljet] and this band had many virtuoso musicians [Marko Timonen on drums, Samuli Laiho on guitar, and Samuli "Teho Majamäki on vibes, winds and assorted percussion]. Playing with them really helped me extend my sonic palette!

AAJ: And then you linked up with Samuli Kosminen?

KP: That started after around 1998 when we were both invited to play with Tapio Rinne's Rinneradio. When I was starting to compose Kalmuk for the Tapiola Symphony Orchestra (Westpark Music, 2002), I was looking for a percussionist with a non-standard style to work with.

It was August 16, 2000 when Samuli came along to try things out, and was showing me these sampled sounds. And I had this idea—what about sampling some of my non-standard sounds? So we set up some mics and put the samples through his processor—and there it was: my sounds produced though his hands. What a birthday present for me! That was the start of our working relationship, and of Kluster, or I should say Kluster Duo—not to be confused with the Moebius-Roedelius-Schnitzler band of the 70s.

align=center>kimmo pohjonen, samuli kosminen

Kimmo Pohjonen with Samuli Kosminen

AAJ: And this partnership has been very productive!

KP: Yes, we have worked a lot together since then—first those two discs, Kluster (Westpark Music, 2002) and Kalmuk, which in turn led on to the whole project with Kronos in 2004. Then we have worked on film music, like Antti-Jussi Anttila's Jade Warrior. And we have also composed some music for a Finnish "circus theater performance, Keskusteluja.

AAJ: And then there's KTU?

KP: That all started, I suppose, with a concert I did at the Electric Lounge in Austin, Texas back in 1999 opening for Crimson's ProjeKct Three. I had played at an international convention in Berlin the year before—and word got through to the guys, and they invited me to join them. It all took a while to develop, but we had the premiere performance in Helsinki in 2004 and then some concerts in Japan.

AAJ: How did that music fit in with your previous projects?

KP: I think Trey and Pat have a very keen sense of experimentalism, and I find that very stimulating. One thing is that with TU [Gunn and Mastelotto], the audiences are always mainly male. So the guys said it was really nice to have some women coming to see them with KTU. I think our audiences are actually quite mixed.

AAJ: So there is a clear difference in audiences?

KP: Yes, there is a difference. But it's the location which makes the biggest difference to the audience make-up. In Savoy Theatre here in Helsinki, we always have a lot of ladies, and it's a great venue—especially for an audience who are sitting down. That makes a huge difference to an audience—and it makes quite a difference to my playing whether the audience is still or moving. In fact, maybe we should consider playing my latest notated piece, Uniko, in Tavastia [Helsinki's main medium-sized, standing-only rock club].

And then there's the timing of the gig—like in Spain when we started at 2:40 am. That can make a huge difference to the way an audience reacts. But there it was just great—an outdoor concert, you know, a real Woodstock feeling!

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