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(38 min, Mellow)
TRACK LIST: 1. Tuhkamaa Intro 1:19 2. Kosovo 3:01 3. Valtakunta 5:22 4. Harlekiini 3:23 5. Klovni 6:03 6. Tuhkamaa 8:05 7. Hymni 6:35 8. Oodi 4:04 All music: by Lattunen. Lyrics: R Lahtinen. Produced by Lattunen & Salmi. LINEUP: Vesa Lattunen - vocals; guitars; keyboards Jan Schaper - vocals; saxophones Saara Hedlund - cello; vocals Tommi Hakinen - bass Jukka Teerisaari - drums With: Pekka Virtanen - sitar Kuja Salmi - cymbals
Prolusion. The history of Finland's HAIKARA is dated as far back as in 1971, but their creation still remains rather obscure. They have five full-length albums at the moment: "Haikara" (1972), "Geafar" (1974), "Iso Lintu" (1976), "Domino" (1998) and "Tuhkamaa" (2002), which is the hero of this review.
Analysis. Only one of the group's founding members, Vesa Lattunen, is featured in the lineup on this CD. He is the core composer, and in particular, I am very much impressed with his strong guitar and keyboard playing. While most of the musicians that back up Vesa here are young, all of them are remarkably gifted and assured players, who, moreover, are imbued with enough of the classic spirit of Haikara to grasp the leader's conception and create an album worthy of the band's legacy. Haikara's sound is not only free of any possible cliches and stereotypes, but is so original that it would be absolutely senseless to use even rough points of comparison regarding it. One may be somewhat deluded by the rhythmical nature of a couple of compositions, but it can happen only upon the first spin. In most cases, there is only a seeming simplicity, which will dissolve like a morning mist after sunrise, giving way to amazing beauty and revealing the full coherence of all of the music's aspects, as soon as you give the CD another listen. The album is made up of four instrumental compositions and four songs, the principal difference between the categories lying in the presence of a strong heavy component in the textures of the former, save the first track. Tuhkamaa Intro is the one whose inclusion in the album I would have questioned, but not because it is short (1:20). Some strange boom is swelling for no less than a minute to transform into the blitz duel between saxophone and synthesizer only at the very end. Of course, the piece would have not looked like a homeless child had it not been separated from the 'maternal' track. The other three instrumentals: Kosovo, Harlekiini and Hymni are astounding, both of the latter having a magical organ interlude. The main fabrics that the first two are woven of are a synthesis of Hard- and Art-Rock with elements of Jazz-Fusion and a strong chamber sense, which, though, is especially striking on the tracks with vocals. Hymni is even more intense, intricate and unique; it's a kind of symphonic Prog-Metal richly flavored with spices of Indian music (kudos to a guest Sitar player), a mind-blowing composition, as well as most of those to be mentioned. The first song, Valtakunta, is dense and intense, which makes it virtually close to Kosovo, but without a heavy component. The longer songs, Klovni (Clowns) and the title track, involve multiple sections with constantly shifting music, dramatic atmosphere and acoustic instruments (cello, saxophone and acoustic guitar) being often put at the first place in the arrangements, at times in the absence of the others. Symphonic Prog meets Chamber Rock. There is also an amazingly efficient combination of symphonic and quasi-improvisational harmonies, whose beauty is most of all notable in the interactions between cello and saxophone. The vocals are exceptionally unique alike and are really essential for this music, even though none of the songs is vocal heavy, save Oodi, which closes the album. This is the only romantically affirmative track here, Vesa Lattunen sharing the lead vocal duties with Saara Hedlund, instead of Jan Schaper.
Conclusion. "Tuhkama" is a gem (and is one of the many gems kept in the bins of Mellow Records, which, after Musea and Inside Out, still remains the third largest contemporary Prog label). I really wonder why, unlike many other non-English-language acts, Haikara never achieved a more or less wide success outside their motherland, even at the heyday of the genre. In any case, their music possesses everything necessary to provide probably any Prog lover with a very enjoyable listening experiment. Highly recommended.
VM: September 16, 2005
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