Kaustinen, in southwestern Finland, is well-known for its folk music. It is home to the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival every July, which draws musicians from around the world. An integral part of Kaustinen's renown is the group Jarvelan Pikkupelimannit, or JPP for short. The group's core is a family of musicians that stretches back for several generations. Mauno Jarvela and his nephew Arto Jarvela are at the center of the group; many of Mauno's fiddle students have come up through the ranks to play with JPP. Arto is one of JPP's best-known musicians, with a busy solo career that has led to appearances with a host of other Nordic folk musicians. Another one of JPP's stars is harmonium player and arranger Timo Alakotila, who has his own solo career. Even with these prominent band members' many side projects, there is no hint that JPP will slacken its pace any time soon.
The basic lineup for Kaustinen Rhapsody includes Alakotila, Mauno and Arto Jarvela, and double-bassist Janne Virkkala. Fiddlers Jouni Jarvela, Matti Makela, Tommi Pyykonen and Jarmo and Juha Varila also appear on most tracks. This lineup is sometimes expanded by the addition of Mauno Jarvela's fiddle students, so that no fewer than 14 fiddlers play on "Pelimanni's Revenge" and "Haudanmaa Wedding March." The abundance of strings gives JPP a lush sound, even more so in concert than on disc, but the arrangements are never saccharine. The inherent dissonances lurking beneath the surface of Nordic music make sure of that.
JPP's music is grounded in the traditional fiddle music of the Kaustinen region although most of the pieces on Kaustinen Rhapsody are not traditional. Some pieces are JPP originals that use the vocabulary of the traditional Finnish fiddle music. Two numbers ("Tango For Marsha" and "Texas Blues") were composed with Finnish-American fiddler Erik Hokkanen. JPP knows how to swing and fans of Stephane Grappelli should give the group a listen. Although JPP's music is arranged rather than improvisational, the rich fiddle sound brings Grappelli to mind, and the tangos in particular summon up a sophisticated cafe of the imagination.
The album ranges through various moods, from whimsical to stately, and concludes with the traditional melody "Hintrikki Peltoniemi's Funeral March," which modulates grief into dignified serenity. The playing is polished throughout and the production (by Arto Jarvela and Alakotila) is smooth. There is no lack of energy here, however: just listen to the title track, a suite with some sections that might make good soundtracks for Chuck Jones cartoons.
For a rich musical treat that won't cause indigestion, try Kaustinen Rhapsody.