CD REVIEW: Varttina - Ilmatar
By Ben Ohmart - 05/21/2007 - 10:34 AM EDT
In Finnish myth, Ilmatar is the Goddess of Air, who created heaven and earth by breaking two eggs brought by the eagle Kokko. Taking that tradition and placing it in modern terms through music requires a skill that Varttina luckily has in abundance. This 6+ person ensemble is full of voices and rolling close harmonies that chase words for all they’re worth, often converging on the same notes like a group of collaborating storytellers in the midst of a tribal huddle.
For vocal excitement, go into the busy ‘Kappee’, ‘Laiska’, ‘Kiiqua’ or just spin the 11 track disc until it stops. ‘Laiska’ fiddles an Irish stomp, but projects some beautifully stretching vocal chords into folk music of a very sharp shade. The performances are more than fun and spirited, they are spinning webs of story songs that transcend the mere language barrier.
Here’s the English translation/explanation to my favorite, ‘Liiqua’, surging with cranked accordion, a breath of booming piano (or perhaps something electric), and of course those lovely and roving multi-voices. ‘I want a man to be my match, a man who pleases me. I want him to be handsome, he needs to have the looks to walk beside me. But I can’t find a lover, can’t be satisfied. I found a bird-cherry twig and a sappy green sprig, but I can’t find a lover, can’t be satisfied.’ Every song is a character, a grand part of the whole.
This is Varttina’s 8th album in almost 20 years, yet the music is so fresh and full of life that I would’ve guessed all players and sounds to be under 22 years of age! It seems that practice is making Ilmatar perfect. It is just as gorgeous as it is zestful, a strange and wondrous combination of pitches and falls and now and then. A wordy release of dominating, plucky thunder.
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