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CD Review: Eero Hämeenniemi / Unmatched

Unmatched  – Eero Hämeenniemi & Guru Kaaraikkudi mani / Kosmic Music 2005

(Released under the name Twins in Finland)

1. String Swing / Hämeenniemi
2. Spicy Joy / K. Mani
3. Not Maya / Hämeenniemi
4. Music For Mani  / Hämeenniemi
5. Inspiration on 5 / Hämeenniemi

Personnel: Guru Kaaraikkudi Mani – Mridangam, Hämeenniemi – Harmonium, B.V. Balasai – Flute, A. Durgaprasad – Gottuvadhyam, Pentti Lahti – Saxophones, V.S. Narasimhan – Violin, Heikki Nikula – Bass Clarinet , T.V. Vasan – Ghatam, Sampo Lassila – Bass, Sharreth – Vocals, Markus Ketola – Drums

I first listened to this CD while chilling out with a friend in our hotel room in Kochi and we slapped it into his MacBook. Not the ideal way I admit but at least we had air conditioning and some cool drinks at hand. The first impression was, and don’t stop reading here, that what we have is yet another fusion attempt maybe slightly restricted in scope and color as they often can be. But soon we were perking up our ears with interest as something was going on here.

My friend ripped it for later listening (sorry for the copyrights violation) and I decided to listen under better circumstances later, which would be now. So lets brew some strong tea and listen to what we have here…

I’m not sure if the large quantity of Chai I just drank has something to do with it but I find myself quite excited about the CD after giving it a thorough hearing. This is actually quite an adventurous piece of music.

Kicking off with the short piece String Swing, which is a kind of intro saying ‘here we are and we rock’! …alright, swing in this case. The theme is very catchy and optimistic and will surely remain playing in my poor head for days. Despite this it is not just a ditty but a respectable piece of music albeit brief. Once aspect that hooks me right away is the sound which comes through round and balanced, in other words well engineered. The CD doesn’t say who’s behind the table but I suspect that Mr. Hämeenniemi has had a say in which way the knobs turned.

Next we have Spicy Joy, a long piece by Guru Mani in Carnatic style with an almost Sidney Bechet-like solo by Heikki Nikula on Bass Clarinet, which creates an eerie and surreal twilight zone where Montmartre and Madras merge in an acid-like dream. Durgaprasad treats us to a lengthy Gottuvadhyam (member of the Veena family) solo and if you are a friend of the Bamboo Flute Mr. Balasai will deliver his subtle message next on his Bansuri. What really is a treat is listening to Guru Mani on the Mridangam and T.V Vasan on Ghatam (claypot), both traditional South-Indian percussion instruments, as they are joined by Markus Ketola on what sounds like a highly geared down trap set fondled with brushes. The going gets quite experimental here with a feeling of some adventure in the air, especially as Ketola interprets the talam (rhythm) for us. No need to say that Guru Mani shines like no other on Mridangam. Wah !

Next comes a fantastic ten minute piece called Not Maya which starts off with the shruti (pitch) set by Hämeenniemi on the harmonium, Sharreth elaborating on vocals and Pentti Lahti embellishing on Saxophone. For a while this is all sounding like a standard Carnatic raga, but we are in for a surprise when after the intro the music slightly unexpectedly treads into more western influenced territory with a theme played on violin, bowed double-bass, clarinet and saxophone. After  this we are slowly lead back east but with a new mood bordering on jazzy. And not least because of Lahti’s solo. I find myself enjoying this song a lot.

Music for Mani starts off with Hämeenniemi building the mood on Harmonium which I find is nice after which double bass and drums lead us into yet another indo-jazz venture, even more so than before. The CD gets more and more interesting here, starting to seriously transcend musical boundaries. Both Indian percussionists with Sampo Lassila on plucking away on double bass put on a foot stomping rhythm.  The sax solos take flight on this one and we have leanings towards more free elements here which I have been waiting for.  I find myself smiling happily and admiring the musicianship.

Last we have Inspiration on 5, which begins with a joyous theme almost reminiscent of Romanian gypsy music. Let’s get Taraf de Haïdouks playing with this lot next. (Yeah, and you on the kitchen sink, someone might be thinking). Next we have fantastic interplay between the gottuvadhyam and bass clarinet and Sax-man Lahti finally really breaks free of form on his solo. Gotta love it!  All this ends in a celebratory display of musical exhilaration and leaves at least me wanting more. Another spin coming up right away and some more of that soma juice please.

Having said all that and if you cant be bothered to read the above here it is in a nutshell:

This is good, fun music which can be appreciated on many levels and is definitely worth checking out. Am not sure if this is available anywhere in Finland but I will definitely buy a few copies for the library. The cover is a pretty funny cut and paste montage of both maestros which I would be happy to scan for you had I a scanner. Other than that Kosmic Music deserves praise for releasing this. And yes, I am aware that this CD was released five years ago, I just happened to discover it now.

This is what I love, cultures coming together and creating art beyond boundaries and breaking a few rules while at it.

Give me a glass of Scotch and I’ll be dancing to this.

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2 Responses to “CD Review: Eero Hämeenniemi / Unmatched”

  1. Mohan M M says:

    Hi, after reading your blog, I have bought “Unmatched” audio CD. Its really good to listen to. Thank you for your helpful review.

  2. Aleksi Lausti says:

    Glad to hear it! Enjoy the great music that just gets better with each listen.

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