Review: Harri Kuusijärvi Koutus – Mirage (2020)

Mirage is the third studio album by Harri Kuusijärvi Koutus.

The accordion is an instrument that inspires horror in a large part of rock fans. And even among open-minded progressive music lovers in general. The accordion easily takes one’s mind somewhere in the direction of dance halls and tired Finnish tangos, but as with any instrument, it is of course possible to make great and ambitious music with the accordion. As long as it is played by a skilled and visionary musician. 

Kimmo Pohjonen has pioneered progressive music with the accordion in Finland, and now in recent years 34-year-old Harri Kuusijärvi has joined the club in an impressive way. Like Pohjonen, Kuusijärvi combines virtuosic basic instrument control with electronics to manipulate the sound of the instrument. Kuusijärvi may not be as wild as his older colleague, but he too has managed to create an original and modern sound.

Accordionist-composer Harri Kuusijärvi founded his band Koutus in 2014, and the line-up has changed a bit over the years. Since arriving at Mirage, the line-up has included Kuusijärvi’s own electronically effected harmonica, Veikki Virkajärvi’s electric guitar, Mikael Myrskog’s synthesizers and Jesse Ojajärvi’s drums.

Mirage’s music is difficult to place directly under any particular genre. And it is often between the boundaries of different genres that the most interesting music is created. It is easy to classify Mirage as jazz. But what kind of jazz? I would describe it as modern and slightly avant-garde electronic jazz-rock with echoes not only of folk music, but also a healthy amount of progressive rock influences. So it’s quite a rich mix of different ingredients, but Kuusijärvi and his musicians have mixed them in a delightful way to create a cocktail all their own.

Mirage’s music is at times sonorous, at times very upbeat. The album begins with a somewhat surprisingly lingering and atmospheric song that, as it were, insidiously transports the listener into the band’s sound world. ”Snow” begins as a beautiful and slow atmospheric piece. However, the song subtly changes towards the end to something more intense. It hums along with a poetically picturesque harmonica solo and an electric guitar solo that drifts underneath in a very elegant way. Kuusjärvi plays a truly epic melodic and lyrical harmonica solo.

The next track ”Safari” starts with a more hectic pace. The harmonica grinds out a fast, grinding riff, the guitar solos upbeat, the synthesizer simulates a bassist bouncing along the neck of his instrument and the drummer pounds his set like it’s the last day of the week. After a couple of minutes, the atmosphere calms down a bit, but the rhythmic energy is maintained thanks to the drummer’s wild playing. Kuusijärvi plays a sparkling solo with thundering drums in the background. A short break and then the electric guitar takes over the solo space as the drummer continues his still intense straightening. Great playing from everyone!

Read also: Review: Magma – Kãrtëhl (2022)

In the title track ”Mirage”, after a short bass solo, we hear a very impressive Allan Holdsworth-like guitar solo from Virkajärvi. The bass solo is played on a synthesizer and keyboard player Myrskog’s role throughout the album is to play bass on one hand and create atmospheric textures and sound effects on the other. You don’t hear much keyboard soloing from him. As much as I usually love to focus on the bass guitarist’s activities, I have to admit that the solution works on this album and I don’t miss the ”real bassist” at any point.

The fourth track ”Dark Matter” is the most energetic on the album. The electric guitar thunders in an irregular rhythm with a buzzing riff, while the drummer gives a chaotic-sounding impetus. Halfway through, we hear a more abstract quiet section and then we’re off again.

The first four tracks mentioned above are the best songs on the album in my opinion, but Mirage still continues with a steady quality until the end and carries its 49 minutes duration nicely. Or at least almost. The slow and minimalistic Pac-Man-esque electronic bleeps that close the album, ”Apina Revisited”, didn’t really excite me. As a couple of minutes of weirdness it would have worked, but at five minutes it at least tests my patience, although admittedly towards the end it gets a bit more interesting.

The sonic world of the album is of high quality, both in terms of recording technology and artistry, but I can find a few things to nitpick about it too. Ojajärvi plays electric drums on some of the tracks and the unnecessarily sterile bouncing drum sounds are distracting in places and are, in my opinion, the only serious crack in an otherwise quite nice sounding album.

In 2020, Koutus also released the excellent concert album Live In Helsinki. Having released three studio albums and two live albums, Koutus has proven to be one of the brightest hopes for Finnish modern and experimental jazz. In my own books, Koutus leapfrogged past Njet Njet 9, Mopo and Virta with Mirage to become the most interesting Finnish jazz-rock band of the moment. 

Best songs: ’Lumi’, ’Safari’, ’Mirage’, ’Dark Matter’

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Kirjoittaja: JANNE YLIRUUSI

Tracks

  1. Lumi 07:06
  2. Safari 04:45
  3. Mirage 07:56
  4. Dark Matter 07:10
  5. Azulin iltapäivä 04:13
  6. Visit Lapland 06:02
  7. Kaamos 07:50
  8. Apina Revisited 04:51

Harri Kuusijärvi Koutus:

Harri Kuusijärvi: accordion, electronics Jesse Ojajärvi: drums, percussion Veikki Virkajärvi: electric guitar Mikael Myrskog: synthesizers, electronics

Producer: Harri Kuusijärvi
Label: Eclipse Music

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