Hailing from Finland, Juha Kujanpää is a keyboard player and composer who, along with his ‘solo’ albums, writes music for movies, documentary films and theatre productions. In 2013 he formed a quartet which acted as the core band for the three albums released in the 2010s – Kivenpyörittäjä (Tales and Travels), Kultasiipi (Goldwing) and Niin Kauas Kuin Siivet Kantaa (To Where My Wings Will Take Me) – all of which were well received and favourably reviewed here on TPA.
Post pandemic, the Juha Kujanpää ensemble return with the quartet intact. However, there has been a shift, not only musically but also in the guests, or supporting musicians. Across the three previous albums the guests consisted of a combination of a stable string section and more fluid cast in the woodwind and brass. For Old Ways, New Ways the string (fiddle) players have gone and have been replaced by an enhanced wind section. Another new arrival on Old Ways, New Ways is a three-piece vocal trio, all of which makes the album title seem pertinent as we approach the album opener and title tune. The folkier elements are immediately re-established with a combination of piano, kantele (a traditional Finnish plucked instrument) and wordless voices. As the track unfolds more instrumentation is added, namely muted brass and some jazzier saxophone flourishes. The end result is a rich combination of traditional Finnish music with a jazzy (not jazz) leaning. As mentioned, previous albums have heavily featured fiddles, so it is curious listening to the familial Juha Kujanpää sound, with a shift from the folkier sound to a jazzier infused setting – ‘old ways, new ways’ indeed.
One thing that is evident across this latest offering, and in fact all three previous albums from Juha, is that melody is king, even if the origins of those melodies is derived from a diverse pot. So across Old Ways, New Ways you are likely to detect influences from Mike Oldfield or Keith Jarrett; Bill Frisell via Ornette Coleman to Philip Glass; classical music to Nordic folk. It may all sound like a very strange brew, but it is one that works very effectively.
Track two, Trekators, eschews past releases – it’s big, it’s bold and brassy with an Eastern European slant thrown in for good measure. Sepia, on the other hand, is a delicate and touching piece, featuring piano (and string samples) and the return of those wordless vocals. A beautiful and quite stunning track…
Old Ways, New Ways is an instrumental album, so it may seem a little odd that it features vocals! However, the emphasis here is ‘wordless,’ and therefore the voice is characterised as an instrument. And at this point let us introduce the three voices – Eeppi Ursin, Susanna Lukkarinen and Jouni Kannisto, all current or past members of the excellent Finnish a cappella quintet Club for Five.
Now as we approach the festive season, and this may be pure coincidence that all of Juha Kujanpää’s albums have been released towards the end of the year, it is worthy of mention that there is a warm and uplifting spirit to all four albums, which resonates a little more so at this time of year. Prime examples are the delightful Morning Star, which in many respects returns us to the album opener, with that heady mix of band, brass and vocals. By way of contrast, but equally convivial, is Gates of Heaven with its rolling rhythm and harmoniously themed brass, whilst Matroskin and In the Country are truly joyous affairs. Only the closing track Glow offers an air of melancholy.
A striking feature of this, and previous releases, is that it brings together an impressive ensemble of musicians who have worked intuitively together making the tracks the focal point rather than the individual. With Old Ways, New Ways Juha Kujanpää and ensemble have cleverly put a different slant on the music, which not only complements the back catalogue, but brings a vibrant new chapter.
01. Old Ways, New Ways (6:23)
02. Trekators (4:52)
03. Sepia (7:29)
04. Morning Star (8:11)
05. Gates of Heaven (4:54)
06. Matroskin (4:54)
07. In the Country (4:10)
08. Glow (4:21)
Total Time – 45:14
Juha Kujanpää – Piano, Keyboards, Pipe Organ
Timo Kämäräinen – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Mandolin
Tero Tuovinen – Electric Bass, Double Bass
Jussi Miettola – Drums & Percussion
Joakim Berghäll – Saxophones
Verneri Pohjola – Trumpet
Henri Haapakoski – Flute, Saxophone (track 7)
Jouni Järvelä – Clarinet
Teija Niku – Accordion (track 7)
Emmi Kujanpää – Kantele (tracks 1 & 3)
Eeppi Ursin – Voice
Susanna Lukkarinen – Voice
Jouni Kannisto – Voice
Record Label: Kuu Records
Country of Origin: Finland
Date of Release: 9th November 2022