Jouhiorkesteri, Nikodemus (Kanteleen Ääniä, 2008)

The jouhikko is a primitive bowed lyre indigenous to Estonia and eastern Finland. It was relatively common in those regions from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century, and has been revived in more recent years as interest in Finnish folk traditions has increased. While similar in size to a fiddle, its overall sound is generally harsher and more dissonant. As a result, jouhikko music is something of an acquired taste. The group Jouhiorkesteri consists of four Finns singing and playing the jouhikko. On their album Nikodemus, they try to bring the instrument into the present.

Most of the tunes on Nikodemus go back more than a century, although a few more recent tunes and one original composition are included as well. The music works best on the more primal, droning tunes for which the agressive-sounding jouhikko is well suited. The album's one original tune "Rackelbacka," for example, is a very nice example of a primitive but effective melody that sounds really good played on several jouhikkos plus a Jew's harp. Other times, though, it felt as if Jouhiorkesteri were asking a bit too much from the instrument. The slow, stately seven minute march "Voi Minuu Poloinen Poiga" just didn't seem to fit the instrument well at all.

Still, I can't fault Jouhiorkesteri for trying. The jouhikko is a very interesting instrument, and can give faster-paced tunes more of an edge than a regular fiddle can. The slower pieces on Nikodemus didn't work quite as well, unfortunately.

Overall grade: B-

reviewed by Scott

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