These Finnish "Masters of the Underworld" create densely-textured, dark, urban, instrumental theatre-pieces. Whether poignant or pounding, the blend of rock & jazz informed by ethnic influences such as Ashkenazic (klezmer), South Asian, and Middle Eastern music is compelling as well as memorable: new melodies, intriguing yet dissonant harmonies, complex yet inviting rhythm-beds. It is also tempting to posit that Alamaailman Vasarat (AV) constitutes a radical extension of the traditional Finnish potpourri players: while there is not a violin in the house, the harmonium (or pump organ) is used as a continuo similar to ensembles such as that of Konsta Jylhä or JPP. AV themselves invite comparisons to Finnish folk by incorporating tango-styles, though these differ greatly from their sentimental ancestors. And though AV uses progressive techniques, cajoling the listener into a sound-scape before producing the head, using polyrhythms and irregular measures, they still stay close to the dance impulse. It is also easy to appreciate AV's palette of musical textures, including all grains - Vasaraasia is a rare treasure in an environment of perfect sound reproduction encouraging overproduction, especially since AV subverts unusual techniques to their arrangements, effectively producing wild multiple bounces on the harmonium or cockroach-like string-scratches on the cello.
AV is an improbable treasure as well. Default instrumentation is soprano sax (Jarno Sarkula), trombone (Erno Haukkala), cello (Marko Manninen), harmonium/pump organ (Miikka Huttunen), and percussion (Teemu Hanninen). Less often, Sarkula plays a North Indian shawm (sounds like a fierce oboe) called a shehnai, Haukkala a mean didg, and Huttunen excellent piano. There's a lot that you won't hear: no violins, no guitar, very little of conventional melody instruments, but they won't be missed. All of the lower pitched instruments pinch-hit melodies, though the more poignant leads generally belong to the sax. The cello can played in upper range; it can also be used to produce "heavy metal" without a guitar - the distorted cello had to be recorded multiple times to get this rather astounding effect. The sliding trombone is used to great effect, and the old-fashioned harmonium can be anywhere it is needed. The band itself being an experiment of a bass-player (Sarkula) taking up soprano sax, these guys really are masters of the under-world!
Each track on the CD has its own personality. "Mamelukki & Musta Leski (Mameluc & Black Widow)" can be described as an oriental-industrial bulgar with a habanero style tango underneath. "Perikunta (Heirs)" goes from foxtrot to frailech, and has the most deceptive vamp of the CD. "Lakeus (Open Field)" is a lovely, haunting piece led by the harmonium and cello. "Unikkotango (Poppy Tango)" is a goth-glam. "Kebab tai henki! (Your kebab or your life!)" starts out as taksim, then turns thrash Orientalia.
The second half of the CD deals mainly in triple rhythms. The haunting "Jano (Thirst)" starts with noodling keyboard, didgeridoo, and slow 3/4 drums, which provides a fantasia backdrop to the head (on horns), with shehnai interludes. "Häntä hellii käärme (Caressed by snake)" is a tango-bulgar with opportunities for both calm and hysteria. "Delhin yöt (Delhi nights)" starts out, intentionally or not, in the spirit of the klezmer Dobriden ("good day"), where the band walks the revelers home in the early morning. This 'band', like the folks they are leading, may have had a bit too much to imbibe, but there's more than a bit of pathos and excitement to be found on the way home.
Vasaraasia offers intense, exciting and beautiful treatments of original music for the general listener, especially recommended to non-purists with leanings toward world/traditional music and to anyone who can enjoy instrumental music of any sort. - Don Weeda
CDs may be available at cdRoots