MARIA KALANIEMI and TIMO ALAKOTILA
Though Finnish master musicians Maria Kalaniemi and Timo Alakotila both play in many bands, something remarkable happens when they strip the music down to duets. The chemistry between the two emerges, creating a sound that is incredibly warm and intimate.
On Åkerö — their first album as a duo since 2001’s Ambra — Kalaniemi (free-bass, five-row, button accordion) and Alakotila (pianist best known for his work with JPP) play like one musician. Their intricate arrangements showcase a wide dynamic range, from bold climaxes to subtle pauses.
There’s probably no better example of this than the title track. It opens the album with the accordion playing both melody and counter melody as Alakotila’s piano enters almost imperceptibly, slowly growing in intensity. The music crescendos and decrescendos, continually and dramatically changing direction but always returning to the anchor of the opening melodies — all in a stunning five minutes.
Where “Åkerö” is a bit of a roller coaster, “Yötuulet” is quiet and slightly melancholy. The brief silences between phrases make the breathing of the bellows seem human to the point of empathy
Åkerö also offers some surprises. Kalaniemi, not known as a vocalist, brings a pure, clear voice to “Koskaan Et Muuttua Saa.” A song of heartbreak, this interpretation would feel at home in a cabaret or music hall. In sharp contrast, “Viola” brings in drums and a horn section to create something akin to a New Orleans jazz band taking on Finnish dance music. Oddly, it not only works but does so with such joy that you can almost hear the musicians smiling.
Åkerö is aptly titled, named for what Kalaniemi describes as the “best tasting apple, sweet and sour at same time.” Like the apple, it’s a delicate balance of styles, dynamics, and emotions.
— Bill Snyder