To say that Finnish musicians Arttu Takalo and Jarmo Saari are joined at the hip is going a little too far, but the similarity of their trajectories over the past 15 years is incontrovertible. Having met during their study years at the Sibelius Academy of Music, cradle for many a budding jazz musician in the country, the two worked for nearly 12 years writing and recording with their flagship band XL. Both had considerable commitments outside this group: Saari on guitar with the inspired 'ethnic-jazz unit' Zetaboo, and Takalo on vibraphone with many Finnish artists, on both orchestral performances and studio work.
The new century has seen both musicians realign their focus and release a number of solo albums as the popularity of XL has faded. Both of their current albums are recorded on Rockadillo, both titles share an involvement with dance, and both perpetuate their involvement in a style of instrumental musicality perfected in XL.
Protocols Of Dancing
Takalo's Protocls Of Dancing is easier on the ear than Saari's album, designed as it is for another band of four musicians, augmented with a 10-piece string ensemble, and playing with very much the same type of crafted near-progressive sensibility typical of XL. As Takalo's previous three solo albums, the pieces have considerable symmetry: melodic progressions repeated with some variation in orchestration, with a prominent role being played here by Anssi Nykänen on drums. Livelier pieces like "Drinking Is Easy" and "The Rain, The Rose, The Kiss" have the same dynamic interplay between participants as in his former band, without voice-overs or other interferences.
Excitement peaks with the final track of the album, intriguingly left unnamed, where the musicians coalesce at a high level of focus and energy, jamming between vibes, guitar and saxophone. As in XL, Takalo here uses the vibraphone, processed and straight, to great rhythmic and melodic effect, which is best exploited when the music demands he takes a powerful lead role.
Next Of Kin
Saari's new work is in his own words "perhaps a post-modern ballet score." It was created over a two year period when he cooperated with local choreographer Tero Saarinen and his dance troupe to produce Next Of Kin, soon touring the globe with the composer on stage. The piece has been described by a London dance critic as "incontrovertibly weird" and this probably applies to the music too.
Using processed sounds assembled from solo studio work with his guitarincluding "Mad Nest" from his miasmic first solo album, Solu (Rockadillo, 2004)as well as a further array of samples from his own kitchen and bathroom, Saari offers a score of broader scope than his first two albums. The pieces have been developed with their appropriacy for performance uppermost. This makes the aural experience demanding, but gives great rein for the richness of the one-man aural landscape, introducing viola da gamba, glass harp and theramin alongside guitar and processor. Saari must be credited too with lightening the burden of listening to a soundtrack of terror and psychosis, introducing elements of humor through a cornucopia of musical referencesfrom the Hunchback of Notre-Dame to Steve Reich!
Takalo and Saari are both masters in inducing an associated sensory experience in listeners' mind to accompany the actual soundtracks. Listeners must commit to the work before pushing playthey will then be taken on an aural mystery tour. In Saari's case this is intentionally harrowing and perplexing (though he has his mellow acoustic moments too). Takalo and his band of brothers play a set of crafted orchestral rock motifs that are more melodic and certainly more compact, but sonically less intriguing. How very well these two composers complement each other.
Tracks and Personnel
Protocols Of Dancing
Tracks: Protocols Of Dancing; Lesgrandsboulevards; Drinking Is Easy; Stockholm; The Rain, The Rose, The Kiss; Dark Cathedral; Someday, Somewhere, Someone; Tokyo Boys & Kyoto Girls; Every Night Is A Prom Night; Midsummer Night; (Nameless).
Personnel: Arttu Takalo: vibes, keyboards, programming, sampler, voice, percussion, vocoder; Marzi Nyman: guitar, voice, vocoder, keyboards; Anssi Nykänen: drums; Harri Rantanen: bass.
Next Of Kin
Tracks: Inner Demons (Glass Prologue); Mad Nest; Black Forest; Gallery Of Characters; Waltz Of Sorrow; Strand Of Solitude; Primal Dream; Horror Portrait; Frantic Seeker; Lament; Pedal Heaven; Turmoil; Alternative Path (Glass Epilogue).
Personnel: Jarmo Saari: guitar, processor, theramin, glass harp and all other instruments.