Maria Kalaniemi & Timo Alakotila: Åkerö
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Maria Kalaniemi & Timo Alakotila
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I keep thinking that the mixing of pianos and accordions just shouldn't work. Both instruments can play so many simultaneous notes, that it's just too easy for the sound to get all muddy.

So when I heard about this new recording from Maria Kalaniemi and Timo Alakotila, I approached it with some trepidation. While I'm less familiar with pianist Alakotila, accordionist Kalaniemi has been a favorite of mine since her duo recordings with the violinist Sven Ahlbäck. While violin and accordion are a natural pairing, I was not convinced the pairing with piano would produce satisfying results.

But my, how this works, and Kalaniemi and Alakotila make it work in many different ways. They use the tried and true method of one instrument playing the melody and the other providing harmonic and rhythmic underpinning. Sometimes the melody gets a harmony line, other times a countermelody. And sometimes only one instrument plays. The arrangements here are mostly simple, always spectacular, and often spontaneous. It leaves me wondering how much was worked out or written down in advance, and how much was improvised on the spot.

Most of this record is simply the duo playing instrumentals, although Kalaniemi does sing us one beautiful song, "Koskaan Et Muuttua Saa." But one tune that is very different from the others is "Viola." With the addition of trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and drums, this is more like a brass band tour de force; or a big band jazz piece; or an old Stax record featuring the Memphis Horns. Or maybe something else altogether. This one song makes me want to hear a full record with this lineup just to see where the composing and arranging skills of Kalaniemi and Alakotila could take this ensemble.

I love the way that recordings like this one challenge assumptions and show how great musicians overcome potential constraints, real or imagined, to create great music. Shame on me for thinking this combination wouldn't work. I'm very pleased to report how wrong I was. - Greg Harness

CD available from cdRoots

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CD available from cdRoots

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