Pacha & Pörsti – Sea of Mirrors

Pacha & Pörsti – Sea of Mirrors

When you take a chance on new music, more often than not you are looking to be wowed. It’s a visceral thrill to hear something life-changing and life-affirming. As 2023 comes to a close, there have been plenty of those types of moments for me. Progressive music seems to be going through a resurgence as young blood brings new ideas and the old guard refines and polishes the tried and true. And then, every once in a while, as a listener it feels great to just sit back and enjoy the simple pleasures. For me, that means something pastoral, evocative, beautifully performed. It doesn’t have to blow me away; it just has to soothe my mind. With all the troubles this world springs on us hourly, music still has the power to take you someplace else, to make you decompress, to be that rose among the thorns.

From the time you see the packaging, always a treat with Seacrest Oy label releases, you have a good idea what you are in for with Rafael Pacha and Kimmo Pörsti’s Sea of Mirrors. Without any identifying information on either the album cover or the spine, all you have to go on is the picture of a lighthouse shining its beacon across a stormy sea and breaking through ominous skies. No image could be more apt for what lies within. The sumptuous album art of Kimmo Heikkilä is a marvellous complement to the music. Both have the ability to transport you into the worlds of Pacha and Pörsti. The latter is a mainstay of the Seacrest Oy projects, most notably the Samurai of Prog releases. Pacha has also appeared on recent Samurai releases, but the album that opened my eyes to him was Inner Prospekt’s Canvas Three from earlier this year. Together, the two multi-instrumentalists make beautiful music, impeccably performed and just right for an hour of escapism.

Gentle ocean sounds and acoustic guitars herald the tranquility of a winter beach on opening track Sailor’s Tale. Recorders and a wordless female vocal courtesy of Laura Pörsti enhance the mood, further underlined by understated Mellotron. Nearly three minutes in, an insistent bass and drum beat reflect how the ocean can change on a dime. Another shift and piano becomes the lead instrument, reflecting a sea once more becalmed. When the pace picks up again, it is to allow the electric guitar to float like heavy clouds over the waters. The beauty continues with an oboe and acoustic guitar introduction to Diving into Infinity. Paula Pörsti’s vocals here are less an assemblage of linear thought than a cosmic collage of sound, creating a mesmerising presence. Every bit of the sonic landscape is engineered for maximum beauty, from the synth solos to the guitar leads. It at times feels like a long-lost Iona track in its widescreen, expansive restfulness. By contrast, the charming and joy-filled Tara’s Joy in the Beach uses mandolin and woodwinds to power through this sprightly instrumental. The melodic talents of Rafael Pacha are on full display during the intertwining of the bouzouki and guitars with the multiple woodwinds, reflecting the delight indicated by the title.

The high energy continues on The Island of Lotus-Eaters, where Laura Pörsti’s vocals sound uncannily like Americana stalwarts the McGarrigle sisters, an utter exhilaration. Kimmo Pörsti’s sympathetic drumming leaves space for the song to breathe without ever detracting from its power. There is a definite Genesis feel circa Selling England in the choice of the sound of each instrument, but to the artists’ credit, it is never imitative. Charybdis, essentially a solo acoustic guitar piece, slows things down again. Alessandro Di Benedetti’s lovely piano contribution gives the song some heft. With the addition of drums and electric guitar, the song loses a little something, but that feeling is short-lived, as the song returns to its opening arrangement. Anthony Phillips would have loved this, especially the second guitar solo that closes out the song. Marek Arnold’s saxophone is the centrepiece of the title track, Sea of Mirrors. The man seems ubiquitous these days, but with his light and ethereal touch, it is easy to see why. His sax sets up the busier synth-infused section, where once again Arnold lets loose as tastefully as anyone can. With both principals handling keys, there is a wide array of sounds. Pacha and Pörsti are adept at leaving space for each instrument to find its place and for the tune to grow thematically.

Fascination is the longest track at just over nine minutes, with Alejandro Suarez providing the only male vocal of the album. His huskier voice holds the piece together with its commanding presence, especially as the song navigates four distinct movements. The second of these, Behold the Man, is especially impressive as it splits the difference between funk and hard rock. Arnold’s sax soars above it all. Piano and zither anchor the Lake of Tears section. The outro of sax and electric guitar caps off what is possibly the best track on the album. Another gorgeous instrumental, Lead, Silver and Gold (Song for Cadiz), has Pacha soloing on a variety of instruments, and Pörsti’s drum flourishes are dramatic. The Spanish influences throughout embrace their connection to Cadiz, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Western Europe. Another change of pace arrives in the form of Shipwreck, all ominous tones to begin. When it does eventually lighten up, there is still somehow no sense of hope. The Eastern-inflected woodwinds and percussion lead to a heavier section which darkens the mood once more, highlighting a short but interesting synth solo. Another left turn and Olli Kaakkola’s sax underlines the impending horror of the shipwreck. This is a magnificently realised mini-epic which manages to tell a story without a single word.

House of the Light ends the album in fine fashion. Flute and zither unite to create another track where the sense of doom is just around the corner. Paula Pörsti’s vocals are fragile and wispy, as if resigned to fate. Glockenspiel introduces the second of three parts, again relying on emotion to help tell – and sell – a story. The final section picks up the pace and, while everyone has their say, no one steps on anyone’s toes or overstays their welcome.

Sea of Mirrors is a lovely album. The production is top notch, the sound pristine, and the artwork is on a par with the music. Nothing about this is likely to change your life. But if you surrender to its charms, you will be transported to another world – one where impeccable musicianship and intelligent songwriting will lift your spirits, warm your heart, and put a smile on your face. Take a plunge into the Sea of Mirrors and be refreshed.

01. Sailor’s Tale (7:08)
02. Diving Into Infinity (6:27)
03. Tara’s Joy In The Beach (4:19)
04. The Island Of Lotus-Eaters (5:24)
05. Charybdis (3:59)
06. Sea Of Mirrors (5:07)
07. Fascination (9:09)
– (a) I Am
– (b) Behold, The Man
– (c) Relent
– (d) Lake Of Tears
08. Lead, Silver And Gold (Song for Cadiz) (5:56)
09. Shipwreck (7:22)
10. House Of The Light (5:31)
– (a) Sailing Scared
– (b) Afraid Of Drowning
– (c) New Path

Total Time – 60:24

Kimmo Pörsti – Drums & Percussion, Keyboards, Bass, Guitar
Rafael Pacha – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Glokenspiel, Lyre, Mandolin, Viola Da Gamba, Electric Violin, Psaltry, Melodica, Flutes, Whistles, Recorders, Zyther
~ With:
Marek Arnold – Saxophone (tracks 6 & 7)
Alessandro Di Benedetti – Piano (track 5)
Olli Jaakkola – Flute, Bass Flute, Oboe, Saxophone (tracks 2,9 & 10)
Laura Pörsti – Vocals (track 1)
Paula Pörsti – Vocals (tracks 2,4 & 10)
Alejandro Suarez – Vocals (track 7)
Jan-Olof Strandberg – Bass (track 10 – part (c))

Record Label: Seacrest Oy
Country of Origin: Spain/Finland
Date of Release: 15th September 2023

Kimmo Pörsti – Website | Facebook
Rafael Pacha – Facebook | Bandcamp