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Musical Journey to the Nordic Islands



In Time (Estonian Air Inflight magazine), Summer 1999

Eha Vain - Musical Journey to the Nordic Islands

“The Baltic Sea, with the indeterminable coastline of its lands and islands, is our Mediterranean of the North - just as open to all cultures as the Other Mediterranean, which has been the cradle of European civilization in the South. For the Baltic-Scandinavian peoples, the Baltic Sea space has been a program, which we have filled with our essence. It is up to us to choose the ways and the means. Here you have two Estonian men, who have plucked notes from the Nordic islands, and have transformed them for us into today´s world. Here is one way to capture the tunes of the Nordic Mediterranean.”

Lennart Meri
Kadriorg, October 14, 1998
Dedication from recording: Sounds of the Nordic Islands

The links connecting Estonia to the Nordic countries are the sea and the islands. All island peoples have a very definite relationship with their surrounding environment which directly affects their identity. This is the way the connection between nature and human creation is formed which determines the cultural identity of the creator. The people of one island see themselves as the people of that particular island because of their cultular heritage.
We all carry the world inside ourselves and every direct self-expression demonstrates something about the individual as well as something universal. The world can be sensed with the specific senses, but sensing the world can be expressed trough various means. A past brought back to life with the help of music makes the nature of today more comprehensible and works as a signpost to the future.

A musical reflection of the Nordic Isalnds
At the end of 1998, a record titled Sounds of the Nordic Islands by Villu Veski and Tiit Kalluste was launched.
The record by this duo is concidered by recognized music circles to be one of last year`s best serious music recordings.
The record has folk music excerpts from Gotland and Aland, from the islands of Muhu and Hiiumaa.Together with their own creations, there is also one Jan Gabarek theme, one piece from Grieg and a Lepo Sumera theme, witch the musicians, influenced by nature on the Faroe Islands, played and immediately recorded in just this form. The Land Where No Threes Grow could easely be the title song of the record, because of the importance of its creation - performances on the Faroe Islands two years ago generated the idea and desire to collect their observations and feelings into material for a record. The reflection of the dramatic contrasts in nature there, the attitudes to life and the customs of the Faroe islanders brought into doubt or even changed the occasional accepted fact or understanding.
Kristjan Blak, the best-known composer, musician and producer on the Faroe Islands: ”An inventive music, connecting with Atlantic inspirations resulting in a combination of transparent harmonies and the warmth of melodic lines.Sounds of the Nordic Islands once more reflects that small communities with their unique qualities can be essential as inspiration, also for visiting artists and lead to works like this unique CD.”
Sounds of the Nordic Islands creates an illusions of Nordic nature; this association is strengthened even more by genuine sounds from the nature (taped by Fred Jüssi): abundant sea sounds, singing wind sporadic cries of migratory birds as accompaniment to a simple melody, which seems as if it has just accidentally ended up on the island, but it also grows and becomes more complex, engulfing the listener more and more, just like what the fog on the Faroe Islands does with nature and people.
The Nordic feelings which was created on the Faroe Islands deepened and developed further with the next trips to Gotlend and Aland. At the Baltic Culture Days on Aland in 1998, the duo Villu Veski and Tiit Kalluste proved to listeners that for the birth of miracle you only need two musicians, nad that Whith a piano accordion and a saxophone- a combination generally not seen in music- you can create a Nordic fluidity, which seem to emenate from silence , the suggestibility and unusual treatment, the unexpected and surprising solutions- all these charmed the public.
The universal and emotional message of Sounds of the Nordic Islands touches everyone deepely, makes them dream and long for things. The music of Villu Veski and Tiit Kalluste is born from the inner need of these two create just this kind of music. That is why it has the right element, that something which need not be explained in words - after all, the most important things are recognized by the heart.
The music of the Sounds of the Nordic I slands is very visual and film-like. Allfilm film studio, ispired by this music, intends to make a poetic dokumentary film - to seek out the similar and differing features of the Baltic Sea islands.

The accordion as a jazz instrument
Tiit Kalluste (37) has said that it is not important which instrument a musician plays, that it is only a means of expressing emotion, feeling and experience. Despite this, he has not swapped instruments at all during his entire life as a musician. He has remained faithful to only one instrument - the piano accordion. In Tiit Kalluste´s accordion playing one can sense his genuine calling and dedication, professionalism and quality. It is not important wath he plays, what is important is the attitude of the musician to what he does - be it folk tunes, swing, pop or classical. He is just as captivating and interesting in French waltzes and ballads as in classical tango rhythms and in jazz classics - in evergreens.
It is probably also to Tiit Kalluste´s credit that the attitude to the accordion as an instrument to play various music has changed radically over the years. Today, it is a surprise to no one that there is an accordion gala evening in the Tallinn jazz club, where many very good distinctive musicians perform solo.
Tiit Kalluste says about his assaciation with jazz music: “If a musician works with an orchestra, he has to stick to a specific score, keep to the notes. He has the opportunity to constantly practise, night after night, to polish it in order to do his “job” even better. With jazz you can also use the same themes over and over, but with improvisation you still have the opportunity to create something yourself. In addition, such playing does not bore or tire the audience or yourself.”
The duo Veski- Kalluste got its start in 1996, when the Swedish Insitude in Stockholm sent the musicians to the Baltic countries culture festival in Paris. The theme at the time was Estonian artists in Paris.The concert program comprised both Estonian and world music.
The two were a good match as people, they had a mutual understanding as musicians so they decided to continue searching and experimenting together.

Saxophone - always modern
Saxophone player Villu Veski (37) considers his experience of playing in the school orchestra as important. Under the direction of professionals he received the necessary stage experience and the ability to relate to the public. After graduating from the Academy of Music, he has worked as a free lance musician with a musical creed: to create and play on condition that it is needed by someone. It is only this level of conviction that provides the courage to experiment with new things.
An example of this is the Saxomania festival which was held two years ago, where he was the enthusiastic initiator, together with his colleagues from the Tallinn Saxophone Quartet. This unique undertaking was a remarkeble and successful musical event, thanks to great public interest. It proved to the listeners how rich a musical instrument the saxophone is.
Villu`s own band, Saxappeal, offers quite another kind of music - the high energy music- making by the young musicians shakes and excites listeners. Even this kind of music which allows intensive participation is needed by someone.
“We make music that is modern and even ahead of its time,” claims Villu Veski.

Contracts between serious music and top jazz
Jazz played today has come a long way from its one-time traditional nature.Villu Veski: ”When Arvo Pärt is played by Gidon Kremer, Jan Garbarek and Keith Jarreth it means that in their creation there is a meeting between modern serious music and top jazz. If association with jazz music occurs via the traditional feel of one`s country, this guarantees a birth of new jazz, a new quality.”
When talking about the great Nordic jazz musicians, Villu Veski of course mentions Jan Garbarek, Jan Johanson, Palle Mikkelborg, who thanks to using the folk music intonations of their lands have found recognition everywhere.
Villu Veski: “The showpieces of Estonian music in the world of music are the composers Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis. Estonian choirs who bring home expected prizes from international choral competitions use material based on their own land’s music traditions.

Sources and roots create uniqueness
Villu Veski: ”Going into the world’s biggest music stores, seeing those tens of thousands of CD’s, which store concert and studio recordings, club mixes, I cannot get rid of the thought that in modern music life, records are becoming like newspapers crammed full of information, which means that a listener could not listen to everything even if he wanted to.”
In music today it is probably difficult to find something new - all sounds and combinations seem to have been tried. In such an abundance of opportunities it is difficult to catch the “right one” and to make it recognizably “yours”. Only by remaining true to your roots will you achieve uniqueness, and permanent value in music.
Tiit Kalluste: “There are no pointless and artifical things in folk music tunes. This music is not tiring or burdensome, it creates the opportunity to go back in time and in history, to discover old truths and wisdom, to recreate them as values. The written culture lore of the Nordic peoples has quite a short history, and the continuity of unwritten culture is contained not only in ethnographic material - in woven belt patterns - but also in folk songs.
Due to their unavoidable isolation this valuable cultural information has been particularly well preserved in the cultural heritage of the island peoples.
The folk tune motifs recorded on our record are not meant for research-like contemlation but as a possible viewpoint - it is our emotion, generated by “looking at the woven belt pattern”.
Villu Veski and Tiit Kalluste, after the fich experience of their travels, will no doubt continue on their way - they are by nature restless, seeking and keen on travel - picing up from some overgrown path an almost forgotten tune and then recording it for their next record, so that with the aid of music they can enliven the past thus understand the indications of their Nordic roots.
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