Esko Järvelä Epic Male Band - Rye Groove

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Esko Järvelä Epic Male Band
Rye Groove
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Rye Groove. It's dynamic, powerful and fiddly. It's a happy marriage of new and old, of seventies prog rock and traditional village music. The Epic Male Band is an inspiring bunch of young Finns who have no fear.

Two of its tracks represent the dual facets of contemporary Finnish fiddling (as opposed to violin playing). "Rose On The Wallpaper" is a beautiful old-time melody, perhaps from an Ostrobothnian wedding a hundred years ago. It strongly resembles sweet Swedish tunes, which I imagine formed the foundation of Ostrobothnian folk tradition both in the Swedish-speaking and Finnish-speaking parts of the province.

  "Rose on the Wallpaper"

It is followed by "Kabob Ostrobothnia," a wild, pulsating, electric and eclectic favorite, conjuring images of Turkish and Balkan merrymaking. It also brings to mind the everlasting Piirpauke in its most electric and guitary phase, when the great Jukka Tolonen added flash and fingering to their melange. Also worth comparison is the lamentably late Slobo Horo from the Ethnic Music Department of Tampere University of 20 years ago, because they also favored many a relentless stop-and-go rhythm. And finally, it inspires a mention of the great Taraf De Haïdouks. I made that comparison on online recently and was chastised by a long-time fan of the Romanians, but I stand by that conviction. This exchange also inspired a friend to compare the Epic Male Band to Jethro Tull - very favorably.

  "Kabob Ostrobothnia"

So I turned to Esko Järvelä himself, in this interview conducted via electronic chat, to get his response.

Jethro Tull, Piirpauke, Slobo Horo, Taraf De Haïdouks. What can you say about all that?

"Our music has been drawing comparisons to really strange bands. I know all of these four groups and recognize the connections even though I must admit that none of them belong to my everyday playlist. It seems to be an interesting fact that people find a great bunch of influences and connections to completely different kinds of bands from opposite edges of the world when listening to Epic Male Band. I haven't run into anything like this with any other project of mine. I guess it's just the result of five crazy and open minded musicians with very different musical backgrounds getting together to see what they can do together."

You've played in Frigg, Tsuumi Sound System and now Epic Male Band. I'm guessing they represent a progression. How would you describe it?

"Frigg and Tsuumi Sound System have raised me as a musician and a fiddler more than any school I've gone through. I find these bands very different to each other in terms of how the music is handled: Frigg has always leaned on an organic union of fiddles with "slash and burn" -attitude while Tsuumi Sound System is going through a path of complex arrangements and adding ingredients from different musical styles. In both of these bands my part has been to fill in the gaps between melody and accompaniment section by creating harmonies and rhythms which I think is my strongest expertise as a fiddler. Epic Male Band was my first real excursion to lead melody and to more diverse improvisation as well."

  "Bo Diddley"

When I spoke of "no fear", I wasn't particularly referring to experimenting with rock elements, but more to the inclusion of very traditional-sounding and very beautiful slower numbers that I imagine your more rock-oriented fans not as comfortable with. I think it's important to have this side represented, too. What do you think?

"I think the more trad-influenced tracks are a very natural part of our repertoire and they complement each other with more rocking ones very well. When I write music for this band I always try to keep in mind that we're representing folk as well, to avoid turning into just another rock band."

Oh, that last sentence warms the heart of the reviewer, a former rock journalist who got tired of the posturing, clichés and loudness of rock bands and has been rooting for all kinds of roots music for the last 25 years. So, one last question. Any relation to all the other fiddling Järveläs from Kaustinen?

"Of course the biggest impact on becoming a musician comes from my home. My father Mauno [Järvelä] is a music teacher and a violin pedagogue and also a member of JPP. I've got four sisters who all play the fiddle as well. My cousins Antti and Arto are both well respected folk musicians and have also had a lot of influence into what I do nowadays. I'm a fiddler of the 4th generation now. I could say I didn't have a choice in the first place but I don't mind."

Mauno Järvelä is a giant of Finnish music. His legacy is in good hands and I am really looking forward to hearing the Epic Male Band live and meeting Esko Järvelä face to face. I came close recently, when I went to Helsinki to the World Village Festival to hear the magnificent Tsuumi Sound System, his former band that he left a year ago to concentrate on the Epic Male Band, but that was nixed by Esko's last-minute baby sitting duties. I've got a lot to look forward to, so here's to the future! - Waldemar Wallenius

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