Orchestral rock has come a long way since Keith Emerson and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and one of the bands which keeps pushing the genre forward is Helsinki's XL. Over the past eight years the group has released four CDs, including one live cutting. The latest offering features more celestial anthems and coruscating choruses, as well as intentions to spread beyond the cognoscenti of Scandinavia.
Track titles range across the post-industrial horizon, reflecting the styles lurking behind the members’ musical training. Sibelius Academy-trained guitarist Jarmo Saari’s “6/4” opens with gentle "skittering electronics" that soon develop into a drum-driven ode to life between the primitive and the post-modern. “Kärlekstörst” ("Love yearning/thirst") is vibraphonist Arttu Takalo’s slightly wistful but assertive legato piece hinting at love’s tangled frustrations, directly followed by Saari’s “RIP,” with combative riffing woven tightly with Takalo’s powerful vibes, reaching a culmination of repeated convulsions – rivalling Gustav Holst's Martian power. As the album progresses more classical elements gain strength, peaking with the exquisite solo harp introduction to Takalo’s “All Ways And For Ever,” swiftly followed by his crafted melodic “Always and Forever.” The last two tracks see both writers in graceful harmony with “Amor” and “Mrs.”
In fact, all four founder members have been trained in the same institution, rendering their approach to music-making highly focused and more compositional than improvisational. Like its predecessor this album is laced with samples and vocalisations from the fifth band member, DJ Bunuel, lurking behind among the intricately orchestrated arrangements, sometimes amplifying the soundscapes, but then throwing them back for reconsideration. In combination with the talents of a clutch of orchestral musicians, XL blend the broad range of their electronic palette to create compositions of grandeur and beauty, with colours bold and intense.
Visual continues along the vein which XL has plumbed before, following in the footsteps of Surreal (Pohjola/Rockadillo, 2002), creating a genre that may soon be known as Visceral: pounding cardiac rhythms, tremulous folical quiverings and soothing prenatal washes that divide, fragment and coalesce in a highly orchestrated but repeatedly unique way. This CD maintains XL’s position as leaders of European art-rock, pushing the boundary into a type of twenty-first century fusion that Joe Zawinul would surely recognise, while etching a direct beckoning line between Stravinsky and the Stray Cats.
Personnel: Personnel: Arttu Takalo-vibraphone,celeste,marimba,glockenspiel,piano Jarmo Saari-acoustic and
electric guitar,chromaharp,metalophone,programming,synth,bass,vocals Tuore Koski-acoustic and
electric bass,percussion Tomi Salesuvo-drums and percussion DJ Bunel-sound effects,voice and
vocals. Additional Artists:Laura Hyyninen-harp, Alexandra Grimal-tenor saxophone and voice, Kari
Vehmanen-bassoon and contrabassoon, Jussi Chydenius & Lolo Krusius-Ahrenberg-vocals,
Speedy Saarinen-percussion. Quartet: I violin-Pekka Kuusisto, II violin-Erikka Maalismaa, viola-
Riikka Repo, cello-Timo-Veikko Valve
The first jazz show I ever attended was the Herbie Hancock Sextet, when I was 15. I had just left the Julliard Preparatory Division, having recently heard Jimi Hendrix for the first time. I was in search of new musical horizons and its been a fascinating journey from that point onward.