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Karen Tweed & Timo Alakotila
May Monday

Maria Kalaniemi & Sven Ahlbäck
NorthSide-US ( / Amigo-Sweden (

May Monday Airbow It's no wonder these two releases featuring accordion were both released on the same day, for they complement each beautifully. On May Monday, accordionist Karen Tweed of Nordic/Celtic outfit Swåp works with Finnish pianist Timo Alakotila, a member of Maria Kalaniemi's band Aldargaz (as well as JPP & Troka), and Kalaniemi even guests on a few cuts. Tweed and Alakotila, together with a team of Finnish roots musicians, record mostly new Celtic folk compositions from around Great Britain, plus some traditional Swedish and Celtic tunes. While May Monday is Celtic/Swedish with a Finnish underpinning, Kalaniemi & Ahlbäck's Airbow is a Finnish/Swedish meld. On Airbow, Maria Kalaniemi, considered one of the world's accordion masters, collaborates with Swedish fiddler Sven Ahlbäck, from the groups Rosenberg 7, Rotvälta and Kvickrot, on compositions from both players as well as Finnish and Swedish traditional numbers.


Although Alakotila gets equal billing with Tweed on May Monday, the album really sounds like what it started out to be, a Karen Tweed solo album. Tweed's accordion is the dominant instrument throughout, even on the numbers featuring only Tweed and Alakotila. Kalaniemi and Ahlbäck, on the other hand, work more truly as a duo. Fiddle and accordion both get roughly equal solo time, and when they play together, the instruments weave together, in and out, so seamlessly that it is often hard to distinguish the two. Kalaniemi and Ahlbäck are joined on a few songs by vocalist Susanne Rosenberg and nychkelharpist Johan Hedin, but mostly Airbow is just the simple yet intricate interplay of accordion and fiddle. Tweed, on the other hand, is backed on some numbers of ensembles of up to six instruments, including strings and flugelhorn. This ensemble playing, especially when it includes the flugelhorn, gives May Monday something of a lush and sumptuous "classical" feel, whereas the more simple Airbow sounds more "folk."

One would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite between these two delightful recordings. Both are characterized by a kind of restrained elegance, a quiet majesty, rendering each and every number on each album a gem in its own right. The restraint does not mean there is no emotion, for the songs run through a number of moods, from joyful to melancholy, from inspiring dance to eliciting contemplation. It is rather that these splendid players work together to produce ensemble works, rather than try to show off their individual virtuosity. Some of the gems do really sparkle, however, and I am particularly struck by Sven Ahlbäck's quicksliver fiddle playing on his composition "Häspolka." And if I had to choose between these two recordings, it would be Airbow by a hair, chiefly because Kalamiemi & Ahlbäck play together so effortlessly that it is as though they were breathing from the same lungs. But both Airbow and May Monday are essential, testimony to the amazing creativity of roots playing and composition in a Nordic/Celtic circuit that is constantly crisscrossing national lines, and to the continued, and often surprising, developments in the playing of that essential roots instrument, the accordion. - Ted Swedenburg

"Hästpolksa" composed by Sven Ahlbäback
©2001 Amigo/Northside, used by permission

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