Kaivama Teams Up with a Legendary Finnish Fiddler for Some Gorgeous Tunes

Kaivama means “diggers” in Finnish. The Minneapolis “Finnish American excavators” have a new album out, a collaboration with Arto Järvelä of the legendary Finnish fiddle band JPP which is every bit as exciting as fans of that group would expect. What they play is folk tunes which are sort of the Finnish counterpart to American bluegrass. Some of it is dance music; some of it is slower and quieter and often very haunting.  Järvelä is an inspiration to many musicians, including this group’s duo of violinist Sara Pajunen and guitarist Jonathan Rundman: the playing here is lively and energetic but also masterful and deep. Some of this is party music, but much of it is pensive and remarkably subtle.

Finnish fiddling uses lots of chords, a technique that gives acts like this a more lush sound than one would expect from a three-piece band. The album opens on a lively note with Hoppavalssi – is this a hopped-up waltz? Sure sounds like it, with lots of tricky syncopation, the bright twin fiddles anchored by Rundman’s steady acoustic guitar. The tempo gets trickier on the biting minor-key second track, with tight harmonies and split-second doublestops from both fiddlers.

They open Taapelvalssi with a wary fiddle conversation, Rundman’s guitar introducing a waltz with a vivid sense of anticipation. Blooming Prairie is an austere yet energetic blue-sky theme lowlit by some vividly abrasive harmonium tonalities. Pajunen contributes an elegantly precise, spiraling solo piece, while Jarvela returns to the lead on the warmly nonchalant Martnas-Marsj.

They follow that with the closest thing to a bluegrass tune here and then a couple of summery waltzes with bracing close harmonies and a dulcimer-like pizzicato interlude. The guitar drops out for a rustic twin-fiddle tune, then the group returns to a lush ambience, adding both harmonium and vocal harmonies to a slowly swaying piece which is ostensibly a polka but doesn’t sound much like one. The album closes with a rather jaunty mini-suite of sorts and then a live recording of a gorgeously wistful, slow waltz. Along with the washes of darkness that Nordic music is known for, there are occasional hints of the blues and Celtic music as well. Fans of oldtime stringband music from around the globe will love this album.