Ilkka Arola - 'From the Depths of the Earth'
I've made frequent reference to Finnish jazz trumpeter Ilka Arola over recent weeks because we've meaning to write about his music for so long, but a huge surge in submissions, the normal Autumnal peak in new music releases, and some general shambolic organisational incompetence has resulted in a delay. So hopefully a few of our regulars may have got the message and sought it out for themselves already, but if you haven't please do, because 'From the Depths of the Earth' is a fascinating, and quite frankly brilliantly performed album, which is worthy of 45 minutes of anyone's time.
Of course many of you log on to our website in search of the latest Indie Rock sounds, or even the latest desperate and melancholy sounding folk singer that sends our machine measuring bleakness and misery off the scale. But my message with Ilka Arola is simple: irrespective of your normal music tastes, this is an album to be appreciated and astonished at - so just sit back and enjoy.
With a background Afro-American rhythmic jazz music, and influences from different music traditions of the world (Middle-East, Africa, Asia and Northern Europe), this is an eye opening composition, and the first track 'Qalandia' is an Epic track with a capital 'E', a twisting dynamic composition lasting over 11 minutes that sets out the ambitions of the album. With a heavy Middle-Eastern / Asian influence, a succession of instruments set out the main theme, but the joy is in the detail - those impossible little sounds from the trumpet, the accent on the beat you won't quite be expecting, the clever changes in dynamics even within a note. The trumpet solo in the middle of the track is totally captivating, before it opens back up into a lively ending. I don't think I've ever quite heard anything like it.
'Uphill and Headwind' appears to my untrained ear to have more rhythmic African influences, whilst more 'traditional' sounding guitar and trumpet take the track forward in the early stages, and then it opens up with a fantastic theme that sounds like it could be the soundtrack from a 70's TV show, and this melody has really grown on me as the weeks have passed. After the intricate and complex 'Shower of Rain', we're offered 'Herään', a softer track which I think translates to 'I Wake Up'.
Title track 'From The Depths of the Earth' is another favourite, and has another epic feel, if relatively short in comparison to 'Qalandia' at only 7 minutes. I love titles of tracks such as these, as often it reflects a composers desire to create visions through their music, it makes me think of Chinese Post Rock band Wang Wen and their brilliant 'Heart of Ocean' track, or dare I suggest Major Parkinson's explosive 'Heart Machine'. Here Ilka Arola takes us on a mysterious and slightly solemn journey, and who knows what exactly he is trying to demonstrate as coming from 'The Depths of the Earth', but the style has really distinct influences again from the Middle East and Asia. 'Nahiri' is another track which demonstrates its world music influences, before the album concludes with the introspective and thoughtful 'Kapteeni Arola', where we're treated to a lovely blend of trumpet and bass clarinet.
Of course i remain conscious that there is simply no beginning to my knowledge on the technical aspects of jazz trumpet playing, but there is no doubt that this is spectacularly performed. In fact it's not just Ilkka Arola, all 10 musicians from saxophonist to guitarist to Bambaran flautist play a remarkable role in creating an astonishing musical album. I can't deny that my personal preference is for those tracks that have a distinct middle eastern influence, there is something very special about tracks such as Qalandia, and those that appear (to my ears) as having more 'traditional' influences have less appeal. Having spent some time watching videos of performances live, I would really love to have the opportunity to witness such musicians perform, because led by Ilkka Arola, these are pretty extraordinary musicians, and 'From the Depths of the Earth' is one of the most extraordinary and enjoyable compositions I've heard all year.
The cover design of the album is by Tuomas Mikola / Repostudio and the original photo by René Garmider Photography