A refreshing musical breeze has blown in from the north, characterized by strong melodies, subtle electronica, and unashamed love for grandiose themes and arrangements. Finland's XL has been developing for 10 years and on their latest release Surreal they make an intrepid statement. In a musical era obsessed with introspective abstraction, XL prefers exuberance and clarity. XL creates bold 21st century fusion, carrying on the broad-minded tradition established by 70s fusion giant Weather Report.
Like Weather report, XL composes with one ear to pop sensibility and the other to the endless possibilities of today's sonic palette. "Oktober" kicks off with pulsating bass and insistent drumming reminiscent of early U2. Then comes a delicious piano hook, to which guitarist Jarmo Saari adds a wash of distorted chords. But XL does not beat the hook into monotony, instead Arttu Takalo develops its melodic and coloring possibilities in extended piano passages and on midivibes. "Sir Real" and "Surreal" overwhelm like two movements of a symphony compressed into a total of four minutes. The pieces combine sampled spoken word, shifting time-signatures, rapid-fire drum'n'bass fills, and stacatto strings as a foundation for the colorful fugue-like arrangement of the orchestra. XL layers these forms so skillfully they make this clashing of styles seem perfectly natural.
Saari and Takalo compose and/or arrange every piece on the album. In XL and on last year's "A Tribute to Finnish Cinema" Saari displays a fresh voice and attention to detail. He draws from a myriad of musical sources-fusion, rock, movie scores-and his playing contributes to the whole of his compositions, never dominating. "Toledo" utilizes a skittering electronic beat and solid low end to anchor a wistful melody line stated by the XL orchestra and midivibes. Eventually the build-up gives way to a frenzied rock anthem, replete with pounding drums, howling guitar and a wailing police siren. Yet Saari and the rest of the band is not tempted into indulgent soloing; they stay in the framework of the composition, knowing their discipline communicates their intent.
Cutting through "Toledo's" wall of sound is a voice which implores: "People, we must learn to open our hearts." Herein lies XL's intent. They strive to make majestic, positive music and they succeed with earnest sentiment. One does not detect pretension in their work, simply a desire to inspire and elevate people through music. Refreshing indeed.
Track Listing: 1.PlimPlomLePetitBonBon 2.Sir Real 3.Surreal 4.Hitta nagon att tycka om 5.Evil spirit 6.The dark lord 7.Oktober 8.Elohopeaa 9.Avanto 10.PlimPlom II 11.Toledo 12.YouAndTheStarsAndTheMusic
Personnel: Arttu Takalo-midivibes,sampler,sequencer Jarmo Saari-guitar,vocoder,theremin,sampler Tuore Koski-bass,bass pedal Tomi Salesuvo-drums,sampler DJ Bunel-treatments,voice The XL Orchestra: I violin-Maija Linkola,Pekka Kuusisto,Manna Lahti II violin-Erikka Maalismaa,kaisa Laurila, Anna-Leena Haikola viola-Marjut Kortehisto,Heidi Toivonen cello-Paivi Ahonen,Eeva-Maria Nurmi double bass-Mikko Kujanpaa clarinet-Patrik Stenstrom french horns-Mika Paajanen,Sam Parkkonen harps-Johanna Nousiainen(11),Kari Vehmanen PlimPlom voice-Alexandra Grimal
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.