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Kimmo Pohjonen & Eric Echampard - Uumen

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Artist: Kimmo Pohjonen & Eric Echampard

Album: Uumen

Label: Rockadillo

Review date: Jul. 20, 2005

Uumen presents a fresh, and very welcome side of Finnish accordion terrorist Kimmo Pohjonen. He’s gained fame in recent years for his trashing and subsequent rewriting of the instrument’s manual; 2002’s Kluster, a duet with percussionist Samuli Kosminen, featured the accordionist’s primal, highly rhythmic playing and chanting being sampled, cut-up and rearranged into elaborate hurricanes by Kosminen. His multimedia live shows have included elaborate light shows, real-time animation and collaborations with orchestras.

This document is more modest, but no less striking. Recorded live in France in 2004, Uumen pits Pohjonen’s improvising skills against those of the French drummer Eric Echampard. A refugee from orchestral percussionist who plays regularly with guitarist Marc Ducret, Echampard confesses a love of rock drumming, citing everyone from Jon Bonham to King Crimson as favorites. The result has traces of the swirling sounds fields found in Pohjonen’s previous work and the ornate constructs of prog rock percussion, but very little in the way of much modern improv. The duo excel at creating narrative arcs, in individual pieces and over the album as a whole. The disc can and should be listened to as one complete work.

From the opening calm of prelude “Fil Fragile” through the three interludes, “Vaste,” “Kuuma” and “Dada,” and on the longer explorations, Pohjonen and Echampard display a mastery of dynamics, timbre and rhythmic interplay that consistently engages a listener. Echampard finds ways to complement Pohjonen’s bizarre vocalizing on pieces like “Kuuma,” while Pohjonen discovers means to spur on Echampard’s infectious, meticulous rhythmic patterns on “Onde Blonde.”

“Uumen” ascends slowly on Pohjonen’s rapid-fire stutters, stoked by Echampard’s ride cymbal. Soon Pohjonen’s layers of real-time sampling begin to come from seemingly everywhere and Echampard steadily raises the intensity. By degree the drama unfolds, but only through increasingly volatile musical interaction, and not through the cheap use of volume or free passages.

On each piece, the pair use different ways to build the tension and surprise so essential to improvisation. For the opening of “Utopia,” Pohjonen coaxes wispy tones that are round and warm like an organ, while Echampard splashes his brushes around his kit. Combine these effects with Pohjonen’s slurping, gulping, garbling vocal effects, and the piece begins to take shape similar to that of the improvised electronic worlds of poire_z. They then transform the interplay into a multi-layered drone, then into a dirge.

“Uumen” is a Finnish word that describes a place of meditative calm. It’s an excellent metaphor for the state of mind of improvisers, and Pohjonen and Echampard deserve credit for their ability as storytellers to enter that place and take the listener with them.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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