Duo Emilia Lajunen & Suvi Oskala, Pelios and Suvi Oskala
Duo Emilia Lajunen & Suvi Oskala
Finnish fiddler Suvi Oskala was busy last year, putting out three records on her own label. They are tied together by Oskala's artistic prowess even as they cross a number of musical boundaries.
I'll start with the duo recording, Tyttörinki, which she made with Emilia Lajunen. The setup is simple: two women, two fiddles, and ten traditional tunes. Many of these are dance tunes with polskas, waltzes, polkas, jenkkas, and mazurkas included. The musicianship is excellent, with some fantastic arrangements that often make it sound like there are more than just two people playing. That's a skill that I never get tired of. “Polkka” is a favorite of mine with a fast-moving melody on one fiddle and driving rhythm on the other. The slow-moving “Starc” is another standout, imbued with more solemnity than much of the rest of this record. This quote from the liner notes is a fine summation of this project: “Did the old fiddlers know they were playing music that would last through all these years? I think they did.”
If Tyttörinki had been the only recording Suvi Oskala released this year I would have been very happy. But she's also released a recording, Gourmet!, with the ensemble Pelios with two musicians from Sweden, Josefin Peters and Anna Lindblad. Oskala and Lindblad are fiddlers; all three sing. They work with not only traditional tunes from Finland and Sweden, but their own compositions too. The singing reminds me of the Nordic ensemble Blink. My favorite track here is the traditional ballad “Systrarna” or “Sisters.” The opening twin fiddles set the mood with both excitement and a bit of foreboding. The liner notes say this is “a ballad about rivalry taken to extremes” and I hear that in this song even though I don't speak Swedish.
Oskala's solo recording, Soolo, is indeed solo,with nearly everything composed, arranged, and improvised by Suvi herself. Where the other two records are deeply tied to Finnish and Swedish traditional music, this one is full-on experimental. Oskala combines fiddling, singing, percussion, vocal effects, keyboards, and some electronics to produce a wild ride. Some of this is obviously overdubbed. Other parts sound like they could be performed solo on stage. Much of this record is slow, but it's rarely soft. It's also quite dissonant, and a bit disconcerting. And I love it. Soolo takes me to a very different place emotionally and intellectually than either of the other records. For the wildest ride, try “Peijaiset,” a funeral feast, with close harmonies, hard-driving fiddling, and galloping percussion underlying eerie vocal effects which reside somewhere between squawking and squeaking.
You can't go wrong with any of these records. From the old-timey traditions of Tyttörinki to the modern traditions of Gourmet! to the otherworldliness of Soolo, Suvi Oskala offers a musical range that is refreshing, challenging, and satisfying. - Greg Harness
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