AillohasSami Eatnan Duoddariid
Released 1978 on Indigenous Records OY
Reviewed by aether, 21/08/2012ce
I remember it well. It was around 2003/4 and I had made one of my twice-yearly Mecca-like pilgrimages to the Freeman Brother’s Ultima Thule record shop in Leicester. Asking Alan if he had anything “interesting…and obscure for sale…” (I know, kind of like asking Tate & Lyle if they got any sugar for sale isn’t it!!!), he pulls out this particular monster.
“How bout’ this,” he says, “its Reindeer-herding and other Finnish folk songs with a sort of prog/jazz/electronic musical backing.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that…” I answered, all the while thinking: “Oh God, here we go!” and continued leafing through the SBB and Skaldowie LP’s.
As if sensing my scepticism Alan slips on the 11 minute “Aillohas” with a wry smile. The fizzing misty electronics of the minimalist keyboard player, Esa Kotilainen, descend from the heavens, a flute and a ghostly yodel call from across the frozen wastelands of time. 2 minutes in, the vocal suddenly bursts into clarity, a life-affirming fundament, a hymnal folk elegy. Unnerving, humbling, even mawkish, but in a very beautiful way!
‘I’ll take it!”
“Great isn’t it” said Alan, with the wry smile of someone who knew all along. And that was my introduction to the Finnish “Sami” mystic, singer, reindeer-herder, public speaker, and poet: Nils-Aslak Valkeapaa, aka Aillohas.
Its 1978 in Helsinki and producer Paroni Paakunainen has just gathered together the cream of the Scandinavian chamber jazz and progressive rock scenes in order to back up the ancient Finnish folk yodels and reindeer-herding chants of Aillohas, the most famous musical representative of the Sami peoples the country has. However, this was no Les Baxter-type exploit-athon of “indigenous cultures” for the Hollywood jet-set to listen to in their Bel Air mansions in order for them to feel ‘down with the primitives.’ This was a full-on mythopoeic retelling of the ancient myths, trials, tribulations and general vicissitudes of the Northern Scandinavian peoples, set to strident spacious jazz-folk and startling ethereal, Aurora Borealis-type electronics. Indeed, this was so in tune with the grander Mystic Imperative that these dudes all chose Magma-like stage names for themselves as well: Goahtelas, Baron, and the incomparable, Mage, to name but a few.
Side one kicks of with the 9-minute jazz-mantra that is title-track, “Sami Eatnan Duoddariid.”
The sinewy, Eberhard Weber-like bass of Mage (Markku Lievonen) resonates longingly in some dank cavernous under-world chamber. As bright harmonic notes echo, the sorcerous cymbals of Reiska (Reino Laine) hiss like steam around them. A sudden stop and Aillohas’ throaty resonant voice is introduced singing a repeated melodic tune that dances joyously as the combo strikes up behind him. In any other context this would sound too treacly but the thoughtful production and arrangements give this tune a very rapturous feel. The guitar peels off - a solo by Leo Gauriloff that is as creamy and as sublime as any of Danny Fichelsher’s work on Popol Vuh’s Einsjager and Siebenjager – it dances about the tune like sunlight skittering across one’s soul! Well-played but with a quality of abandon present also, as the stew of Rhodes piano covets and caresses it. Esa Kotilainen’s keyboards are like shards of crystal at this point, falling like rain around the music – [his solo LP Ajatuslapsi is another late-seventies folk-tronic cosmic dance of joy]. Aillohas vamps himself with whimpers, shouts and ululations before falling back into the lyrics proper, accompanied by a ‘Wayne-Shorter-if-he’d-recorded-for-ECM’-style saxophone solo. By the way, this is no jig-around the fire traditional ‘Trad’-folk fest, lyrically speaking, either. Aillohas’ lyrics are gorgeously to-the-point haiku-like poems set to music. This track is titled “The Fells of Sami Land” and is pure wintry romanticism at its best:
Alas this bare fell
This cold and violent land
This northern, stony, stormy world
[and] the wind brings, the wind takes away…
Of these golden fells
These silvery stars of lakes
The home of the Sami children
The navel string of life
Track Two is “Elle-Marja” and it begins with Esa Kotilainen’s icy moog notes blowing softly in the wind to be joined by a breathy flute. A melody that is replayed and re-written time and time again throughout the LP is yodelled by Aillohas, like a Finnish ‘muezzin’ call to the faithful – it echoes around the bleak soundscape as reindeer bells jingle in the background as the herd appears over the fjord. Sounds bloody awful, right? Wrong! It’s life affirming, beautiful and humbling in a way that’s hard to explain. Indeed, rather like Miles Kind of Blue it seems as if one particular modal scale has been used to compose the whole of the LP – utilising what are obviously traditional Scadno-folk melodies, but accompanying them with modern instrumentation and a progressive-jazz aesthetic to vary and extemporise on that modality
Track Three “Juhan” begins with a low-grounded organ pumping out tense notes, joined by a low, low breathy saxophone or bass clarinet and Kotilainen’s glassy synthesisers. Then in comes an incredibly strange-sounding keyboard solo that seems like its ushering from the larynx of a particularly tuneful robot-troll. Again, Kotilainen is just one of the Unsung heroes of this record (and Finnish progressive in general), his keyboard textures giving it that wintry feel. More yodelling from Aillohas – this time a duet with the bass clarinet. The side closes amidst frantic runs on the bass clarinet and cymbals of mist finally close the curtains on Side One.
Side Two begins with the piece that blew my mind back at the Freemans’ shop. It’s where the LP raises from the merely great to the transcendental. The 11-minute hymn “Aillohas,” a song obviously so personal to the singer he named it after himself.
Kotilainen’s synthesisers sound like misty clouds gradually forming out of the ether, swirling around each other as a beckoning lone flute appears out of the heavens. A lonesome call seems to be coming from another plane, until it gradually crystallises and fizzing ARP OMNI 2 noises shoot across the track. The bass kicks in and the flute and vocal pick up the melody – a melody so luscious, so heady and yet so shackled to the earth that you get the impression that Aillohas is praying to the very elements themselves. The seasons, the landscape, the trees, the grass, the stones, the nomad peoples, he gets so carried away he flies into a yodel that is joined with the skittering flute of Baron (Seppo Paakkunainen).
“Aillohas” is one long gushing river of a track, rising and falling with the pulses of the Earth, at times becalmed, at other rapturous, even frenzied. A busy keyboard solo is then followed by a saxophone solo, and again, the chant comes in. This time his band seems to have joined him. You can just imagine a warm fire, a barren fjord and a slowly descending sunset, the singers sounding just the right side of drunken rant. The track starts to scream in a free-jazz frenzy as the saxophone explodes into a speaking-in-toungues ritualistic fervour. And the track gradually calms down until only ostinato bass and rattling drums are left. More poetry is apparent in the translations of this track and, like the Germans, they sound infinitely poetic in their strange translation.
So many were the blizzards […]
So many were the sorrows
And so many were the eyes in tears.
The last track “Manga Manga” is a right royal experimental hoe-down as the track begins amidst reindeer bells and what must be snow-bike engines. The double bass begins an uber-loose groove with mucho percussion as a slight skank asserts itself, all elastic bass and bongos, rattled percussion and another semi-improvised yodel that brings this strange record to an end amidst faraway calls and rattled sleigh bells.
Make no doubt about it – this LP is not for everyone! It’s definitely a grower. But if the idea of traditional indigenous Finnish yodelling and Reindeer herding folk songs welded to the electronic, keyboard driven side of Finnish progressive rock and the more lively side of ECM’s Euro-jazz sound float your boat, then look no further. If you can find a copy that is!
There are also sleight and momentary nods to the creamy frothy spiritualism of Popol Vuh c.1974-76 (mainly the guitar playing though), and the late seventies Solina and ARP-driven electronics of Klaus Schulze (certainly Esa Kotilainen fills these shoes sonically speaking). Other touchstones include the more folk-jazz driven releases of ECM (bits of John Surman and Karin Krog’s LP Such Winters of Memory comes to mind), or the mystic folk-jazz of fellow Finn, Edward Vesela. Apparently Aillohas has done many LPs. This is the only one I have or have heard.