Vilma Timonen Quartet, Forward (Kanteleen Ääniä, 2009)

Finland's Vilma Timonen Quartet combine jazz with traditional folk music centered around Finland's most distinct instrument, the kantele. The kantele is a string instrument which can be plucked or strummed, and sounds like a harp with a bit more reverberation. It comes in several different forms, and Vilma Timonen is particularly a master of the 10 and 15 string kanteles. The quartet's 2007 CD VTQ was almost exclusively instrumental, leaning towards darker and heavier styles of jazz. By contrast, their new album Forward features both songs and instrumentals, and the music is more accessible on the whole.

Having met Timonen and guitarist/trumpeter Topi Korhonen several years ago through the Maine Kantele Institute, I know how good a singer Timonen is, and I felt the first album suffered somewhat from the lack of vocals. Happily, Timonen employs her voice quite liberally on Forward. Two songs in particular, the aggressive "Kokko" and the dreamlike waltz "Marraskuura," are the best tracks on the album. Bassist Ape Antilla and drummer Mikko Hassinen provide a rock solid backbone underneath Timonen and Korhonen's interweaving strings. Stylistically speaking, Forward mixes some upbeat, groove-oriented tunes like "Getting Your Hopes Up" in with the kind of impressionistic pieces that characterized much of their debut.

Indeed, the good variety on this album makes it a significant step forward (no pun intended) for the band. They seem to have found the right combination of melody and muscle, with the vocals adding a beneficial extra dimension. Vilma Timonen Quartet are four very talented musicians, and with Forward they seem to be hitting their best stride.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

Segments from a recent live performance of VTQ in Finland

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