While poring over the wealth of instruments arranged on the cover to Sibelius-Akateman's FBB (Folk Big Band), one can't help but find one's mouth watering: such an array of way cool trad instruments in an ensemble backing up old-school group and individual vocals…yow! And the appellation isn't kiddin', y'all, this is indeed a big band, as there are…hm, let's see now, um, three to the tenth power, carry the seven, multiply by the cosine of X, and…whoa!, there's a half a million people here!!! Okay, so my math is really bad, the true number is almost 50, and the soundfield is oft almost overpowering. Whether they all play all the time, I'm not sure, but the environment is upbeat pastoral and as wide as the countryside.
You probably guessed by the Sibelius appellation that the group is Finnish, but FBB is one of those recordings that readily displays how much all European musics have in common, here displaying Balkan, klezmer, jig, Elizabethan, and a wide array of modalities above and beyond Finland's native melodics and styles. Often, I'm put in mind of Les Voix Bulgares and their still singular work in reviving elder times. Sibelius-Akateman, however, goes 'em one better and injects many modernistic airs and craftings amplifying how deft those now gone on to heavenly fields were within their own eras. Astonishingly, the band uses no conductor, almost always a requirement for such large gatherings and complex renditions, as each player is a composer, arranger, multi-instrumentalist, and soloist and knows how to drop right into the pack with nary a hitch.
My favorite cut is Haliasoitto, a spunky but strange-ish composition incorporating Halloween and Nonesuch neoclassical ornamentations as though the Incredible String Band wrote it after listening to Goblin. D-Mollisottiisi (man, the Finns must have the biggest presence of doubled-up vowels and consonants of any language in the world!) blends classical with jazz with prog with just plain righteous old folk refrains to come up with a unique result, gypsies meeting churchgoers meeting bohemians meeting choristers. The recording itself is just a tad blunted because it was taken in a Music Centre in Helsinki and capturing this large a gathering is a daunting task. Nonetheless, very little, if anything, is missed and the ambiance is as of something sliced out of an old Bergman film revering a culture that existed before our grandfathers and that has managed to wend its way to our ears while picking up passengers every decade.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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