...this is an understated gem of a record from three very fine players...
Peter Marsh 2005-06-16
Though bands like Fernhill have raised the profile of Welsh traditional music over the past couple of years, it's just possible that a collaboration between Finnish and Welsh folk musicians might not excite a huge amount of interest from the record buying public.
And that would be a shame, because this is an understated gem of a record from three very fine players; Dylan Fowler (guitars, percussion, oboe), Timo Vaananen (kantele, jouhikko) and Gillian Stevens (viols, crwth). Keen eyed readers will probably have sussed who the Finnish one is.
However unlikely,the results of this collaboration (unlike countless other cross cultural mash-ups)sound entirely unforced and are very often meltingly beautiful. Simply put, these instrumentssound good together.
That's particularly the case on the first two pieces here, which were recorded for Finnish radio. Vaananen's kantele immediately catches the ear withits crystalline tone.It's basically a zither, the first of which (according to legend) was fashioned from the jawbone of a giant pike and the hair of young maidens. Though I suspect Vaananen's instrument has more prosaic origins, he extracts a magical sound from it, from staccato guitar like chording to bell-like swirls.
Fowler's career has taken in latin,jazz, Balkan and Gypsy music, and there's no doubt that he's a masterful and sensitive guitarist. However, his arrangements can veer too close to New Age territory for my taste and the addition of voice, oboe and percussion on some piecestends to smooth things out a bit too much. But that's more than made up for by the sparse, delicate beauties of "Clochiau Fenn" or the gutsy thump of "Halliasoitto", which features the crwth (the only instrument i can think of without a vowel in its name) and its Finnish counterpart the jouhikko.
Stevens (a noted composer in her own right) contributes the wiry, minimalist-inclined "Conductus", and takes centre stage on the closing "Sylkie" (a Shetland fiddle tune), unfurling a forlorn, keening viol melody over gentle kantele ripples. It's a lovely finish; maybe next time we could have a live album?