The World Mankeri Orchestra
The Primitive Music Association of Finland
(www.vip.fi/primus -in Finnish)
EtnoPojat ("Ethnic Boys"), aka The World Mänkeri Orchestra, have an approach to music that is unique, if not offbeat: research Finland's ancient ethnic music (mostly from Karelia and other areas near the Russian border); make by hand the instruments on which it was originally performed (c. 1500); then play them with a heartfelt reverence for the past and an eclectic and very jazzy ear to the future.
Thauma opens with "Indulgence Enters", an aptly titled and quick hard-bop piece that strips the traditional jazz quintet down to playful vox humanae and careening lirus (sax-sounding "re-born Finnish reed instruments") to match. Next is "Tacit Knowledge", a longer, rather contemplative song. The quiet, clarinet-like mänkeri intro gives way to a liru passage that takes its own sweet time to unwind. This floats above a sparse but efficient bed of percussion from Markku Pentillä. The steady bass colors outside the lines just enough to keep it all honest.
The record continues its captivating arc, treating us to the endless and thoroughly modern array of sounds that the Orchestra coaxes out of these primitive instruments. Olli Penttilä's slow, stony, Bootsy-esque bass (the only non-handmade instrument) intertwines with another astounding performance from Heikki Syrjänen's versatile liru. Syrjänen then battles it out with Pekka Westerholm's horsehair kantele, sounding like the piano from the "Exorcist" theme (it's actually a five tone harp); they get free before grinding to a halt. "The Adventurous State of Mind" ambles along like a happy drunk; by the end of the song, there's nothing left but an unmade bed.
The mänkeri for which the band is named is heard in only three songs. In addition to the aforementioned "Knowledge", there's "Taming" (also featuring pine flute) and the closing title track, a 6 1/2 minute kiss that says "don't forget me." The mänkeri is the perfect counterpoint to the liru; like Djivan's sublime duduk offsetting Pharoah's reedy rhaita or Don Byron's thoughtful clarinet vs. Bird's frenetic alto. It adds a warm, introspective side that contributes to what is overall an enjoyably challenging, remarkably consistent and utterly original recording. The nearly-nonexistent liner notes and eye-straining type left me wanting more, but musically this comes highly recommended. - Joel Davis
Read a 1995 interview with the Etno-Boys
You can find the recording at cdRoots
More Finnish Music
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