Teija Niku - 'Memento'
I think I've written before about those 'moments' you get sometimes when you're listening to music, when you hear something really special, often for the first time and that moment is frozen into your consciousness - where you were, whom you were with, or what you were doing at the time. Listening to our 2016 album of the year by 'CeaseTone' on a beach in Mexico is a particularly memorable example. So whilst the M1 just outside Mansfield isn't the most idyllic location I've ever listened to music, it is the place I'll also remember hearing the track 'Memento' (the title track from her new album) by Teija Niku for the first time. It's a simple enough musical theme played first by accordion, but the gradual build up of instruments, with saxophone and finally brass at the end of the track, all create the most beautiful intensity, and a lovely moment etched into my memory. It is a lovely composition, and also appropriate that a track entitled 'Memento' can leave such a positive impression too.
OK so when we started Nordic Music Review, we did want to cover a variety of musical styles, try to give a broad perspective - even though our bias was inevitably to be towards indie guitars and post rock, the music we listen to most. But I admit to be slightly nervous about writing about such a speciality as Finnish accordion composition, especially when it's been combined with jazz and both Nordic and Balkan folk music - all areas where there are simply no beginning to my expertise. However as a listener, I've been totally moved by the music, and I'm delighted to write about it in more detail.
So Teija Niku is a renowned Finnish Accordion player, who previously released her debut solo album “Finsko Pajdusko” back in 2011 and which received positive reviews from the Finnish press. She has been featured on numerous different albums, performed internationally and has won Finnish accordion awards along the way too. She also plays in a folk trio called 'Karuna' with none other than fiddle player 'Esko Järvelä', whom regular readers will know from Esko Järvelä's (extraordinary) Epic Male Band, also well worth checking out if you have the time.
I'll pick out just a few highlights from 'Memento'. The album opens with 'Limp', and immediately I'm struck by the complexity of the rhythms, my mind racing on what time signature they could possibly be performing in, and not for the first time I'm reminded of the evolving rhythm patterns I hear when listening to even Steve Reich or someone similar. But most of all 'Limp' is just simply great fun to listen to, a sparkling tune from the accordion, a track that evolves as more instruments are added, a jazz influenced trumpet solo and a big climax to finish. Even if you add just one track to your playlist, try this one. The introduction of vocals in 'Humma' adds an interesting dimension, initially not my favourite aspect of the album, but I love the fact that these vocals are so understated and simply set out, and I love the intensity of the strings at the end of the track.
Although tracks such as 'Limp' were immediate favourites on first listen, more thoughtful tracks have really grown on me as time has progressed. 'Talven Tulo' strips away the accompanying musicians, and we're just left with Teija Niku and her accordion, playing with the most beautiful subtlety and expression. 'Flypolska' increases the pace once again, an opening tune which perhaps wouldn't feel out of place in an medieval English court before Teija Niku inevitably develops the track with more complex musical arrangements. 'Memento' itself is just the most stunning of tracks, totally spellbinding, and the most gorgeous tune carried from start to finish, I really love this final track so much.
Watch a film about the making of the album here, and get a feel for the music:
The simple summary on this is that 'Memento' is gorgeous musical writing, beautifully performed by a collection of musicians who clearly possess the most natural of skills, and love what they do - I love the brass playing in particular throughout. And Teija Niku's accordion playing demonstrates a staggering versatility and her overall musical arrangements are both charming and clever. Now of course, I have to add a huge caveat in that my knowledge of accordion playing is non existent, and I can't discount the possibility that a fellow Finnish accordionist is currently sitting reading this, muttering darkly and shaking his head in despair at my positive account. But whilst I secretly quite like the idea of some type of Mozart / Salieri rivalry in Finnish accordion playing, I know my instincts are correct here. 'Memento' is such a lovely release, I'm just so pleased that it found it's way into the Nordic Music Review inbox and that we have a nice group of readers who are interested enough to consider such a variety of musical styles as part of their new music listening too.