Seeing Finland’s Arto Järvelä and Minnesota’s Kaivama perform together at The Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis Friday night made me feel downright happy. For a musical performance to be a success, happiness need not be either the intention or the result, but regardless, it’s a great bonus.
Arto Järvelä is a founding member of Finland’s best-known folk fiddle group JPP (originally Järvelän Pikkupelimannit, “the small fiddlers of Järvelä”). One of Finland’s premier folk musicians in his own right, Järvelä has appeared in concert in more than 30 countries around the world and has oft been called “the busiest man in Finnish folk music.” (I hope you’ll take the time to enjoy a few samples of Järvelä’s music on his ReverbNation site.)
Friday night, Järvelä opened with “Maa on musta,” a track from his most recent recording, Arto Järvelä plays fiddle Vol. 2, Cross-tuned, a 16-track album recorded in his hometown of Ulvila, Finland. From his first song, I jotted the word “mesmerizing” in my notebook. “Maa on musta,” a ringdance from a collection of music compiled by Hasse Alatalo, was both haunting yet inviting. Järvelä had the room under his spell immediately.
Most songs in his set came from his new CD, a collection of songs all with open tunings, or scordatura (in the Italian). In his liner notes he explains “every tuning has a character of its own, and some tunes work better in open tunings.” On the back of the song booklet, Järvelä even includes a key as to how each of the 4 fiddle strings is tuned for each song.
Järvelä picked up the tempo with a medley of “Hanhen polska” (Goose’s polska) and “Starc 21,” and then “Alfred at Armhaala”, the album’s opening track, a waltz, dedicated to Alfred Niemisto, a fiddler and fiddle builder from Southern Ostrobothnia in Finland. Niemesto built a viola d’amore in 1905 which Järvelä had the opportunity to play a few years ago, and a short clip he recorded from that instrument into his mobile phone inspired him to write this song.
Other songs in this segment were the bouncy and fast dance medley “Prissatka & Melkutus,” and “Jarrupolska” (Brakepolska), a song he wrote in the winter of 2010 inspired by the sound of the brakes on the Parikkala Inter City train. Both those songs can be heard on his ReverbNation page.
Järvelä announced he was 10 days into a tour with Kaivama and “it’s been a lot of fun.”
Kaivama then joined him onstage and they performed a wedding march as a trio, before segueing effortlessly into songs from Kaivama’s record.
Kaivama, who bill themselves as “Finnish-American Excavators,” say their name is based on the Finnish word “kaiva,” which means “to dig.” They are Sara Pajunen (fiddle) and Jonathan Rundman (guitar and pump organ), both of whom profess to be 75% Finnish. Early demos of their music have received radio play on YLE, Finland’s public broadcasting network. Pajunen has degrees from the University of Minnesota as well as the Helsinki Conservatory in Finland. And multi-instrumentalist Rundman has garnered critical praise for his songwriting and performances across the United States and Europe. (See his recent solo album, Insomiaccomplishments.)
Before wrapping up the first half of the show, the three musicians played “Joutsen Polska” (Swan Polska) from Kaivama’s brand new debut self-titled CD.
After a short intermission, Kaivama dug into more of their record including “Sulo” (which means “grace” or “charm” in Finnish), then Pajunen’s haunting “Cross Country,” a melancholic piece that while sad still conveys a strong sense of forward motion. Pajunen and Rundman traded off songs with Rundman’s “Edina Speedtrap” coming next. “Speedtrap” has a surprising heavy metal influence (or at least attitude) towards the end even while remaining firmly a folk song.
Next was another Pajunen song, “Nonstop” (again, melancholic but spirited), then the “Pirun polska”, which Pajunen called “Devil’s polska.”
Järvelä rejoined the musicians, this time on mandolin. This next segment of the show featured a polka from Turku, Finland (the country’s former capital), and then “Hoppavalssi” (Jump Waltz) a song Järvelä wrote with JPP for their 1999 album History.
The three musicians closed out the evening with one of my favorites, Järvelä’s 1997 song Røros, a song he wrote at Ørland Airport in Norway. I am convinced someone should write and produce a film just so this beautiful song can be the theme song. Kaivama’s version of this song is absolutely gorgeous.
Kaivama go back out on Tour on June 24th across Michigan and eventually end up at several American Finnish festivals including FinnFest in San Diego August 11-14. Jarvelo goes back to Finland, but will join Kaivama again on some of their Michigan tour dates.