Maria Kalaniemi
& Aldargaz,
(Olarin, 1995;
Hannibal, 1997)

Accordionist Maria Kalaniemi is one of the better-known Finnish musicians. An alumna of the famous Sibelius Academy folk program, she is equally at home playing traditional music and more experimental fare as well. She was one of the members of the great group Niekku, and more recently has collaborated with musicians such as JPP keyboardist Timo Alakotila and Swedish fiddler Sven Ahlback. Iho is the first album credited to her and Aldargaz, a group of top-notch musicians.

All of the pieces are instrumentals. Most were composed by Kalaniemi except for three by Alakotila, two traditional tunes and a rendition of Carlos Gardel's tango "Sus Ojos Se Cerraron" (retitled "Surun Silmat"). Kalaniemi's playing can be intricate and fast (as on "Lomasavel") or she can create a beautiful wash of sound. Some pieces, like "Green Score" and "Napoleon," invite the listener in with an accessible, attractive sound. Others are complex and subtle, like the sad folk tune "Istunpa Sankys Laitalla."

Aldargaz is Timo Alakotila (piano and harmonium), Olli Varis (guitars), Tapani Varis (acoustic bass), Petri Hakala (mandolins) and Arto Jarvela (violin). Each of these musicians has a formidable career in his own right and their names should be well-known to fans of Finnish music. In addition, eight more guests add brass instruments or strings to various cuts. This creates a perfect setting for Kalaniemi's five-row button accordion. The accordion is definitely the lead instrument here, but the other band members hold up their end of things. Alakotila's keyboards add stylish accents and solid support; his sophisticated piano work on "Surun Silmat" is perfect for the piece. Most of the arrangements were written by Alakotila, often in partnership with Olli Varis.

The music on Iho bears the same relationship to Finnish folk music that new acoustic music does to bluegrass and old-timey music. The tradition is a foundation for musical technique and skill that is played out in a more modern style. For some of the best in contemporary Finnish music, check out Iho.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 26 June 2004

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