Finland and accordions.
Anyone who has been reading RootsWorld for a while knows that your editor is completely in thrall of both, so when they collide, as they often do, they grab my attention.
Teija Niku plays a full chromatic accordion, which she told me is, “a Finnish chromatic standard bass accordion, made in Italy at the Pigini factory. In Finland the model is called Lasse Pihlajamaa* Revontuli Casotto.” She has played in numerous ensemble settings, including with The Polka Chicks, Aallotar and Karuna, as well as performing as a soloist and with her own self-named quartet.
Hetkessä is a solo affair, just the accordion and occasional vocals. The title – in the moment - is an excellent description of the work here, as the pieces seem carefully composed, and yet clearly spring from improvisational impulses during the writing process.
I asked Niku about this and she told me, “My whole composing style relies on improvisation and I made just sort of rough lines for arrangements for this album. I was relying on intuition a lot and some tunes I recorded right after composing them.”
“Tunto” stands out as an excellent example of this careful arranging of improvisational ideas. Niku says in her notes, “When you have a freshly tuned accordion in your hands, it’s lovely to float around with the sensation of perfectly resonating intervals.” The piece does leave you with the feeling she is dancing you around the room, occasionally singing wordlessly and without pretense.
“Roihu” starts as a lilting minuet and then breaks into an energetic polska that she dedicates to “the little red sauna cottage in Roihuvuori.”
Perhaps my personal favorite is one of the most simple, a waltz called “Lento,” derived from the French style but very Finnish in its results. She says it was “born out of my frustration in learning a complicated musette waltz from sheet music,” but there is no evidence of that struggle in the graceful execution of a song that includes a bit of a Balkan tinge, as well.
“Syvyydessä” is the only wholly improvised piece on the recording, an “in the moment” track that emphasizes the deepest notes this particular accordion is noted for. It is alternately breathy and light, then rhythmic and dark.
The entirety of Hetkessä is never forced or pyrotechnic, but relies on thoughtful contemplation and gracefulness to achieve its goal of bringing the listener into the studio with her, and keeping that listener in the moment. - Cliff Furnald
Find the artist online: www.teijaniku.com
Photos: Antti Kokkola 2019
*Lasse Pihlajamaa was one of the most influential accordionists in Finland in the 20th century, as a composer, innovator and designer of instruments.