Elegant and Fascinating Kulku

SANS – Kulku (Cloud Valley Music, 2018)

If I had to guess you didn’t wake up this morning thinking about how your life was lacking some lovely Finnish singing. Likewise, you probably didn’t wonder why there wasn’t more kantele, the traditional Finnish and Karelian zither, in your daily routine, or how to incorporate a Scottish Gaelic song or Spanish dulzaina into the mix or how an Armenian duduk would mesh into the whole lot. I’ll bet that none of those things crossed your mind. But that’s where music, that fantastical audio magic carpet ride, wraps up all those needs into a neat, tidy package and in this case the first studio recording from SANS entitled Kulku set for release on September 1st on the Cloud Valley Music label.

First appearing together on the CD The Unbroken Surface of Snow, and later live as a quartet at the 2011 Kaustinen festival in Finland, vocalist and kantele player Sanna Kurki-Suonio, multi-instrumentalist and zither player Andrew Cronshaw, multi-instrumentalist reed player Ian Blake and Armenian duduk master Tigran Aleksanyan released their first live recording in 2014 entitled SANS Live.

For Kulku, the group holed up in a converted oak barn along with Ms. Kurki-Suonio’s vocalist and kantele player daughter Erika Hammarberg and Scottish musician, composer and leader of La Banda Europa Jim Sutherland to serve as the Kulku’s producer, and to provide the occasional handclaps, play the barn floor and provide the needed ting (not making this up, it’s in the liner notes).

Kulku is treasure trove of delights. Interspersing tight, neat vocals of the group into expanses of more crystalline vocals wrapped in zither and clarinet, opening track “Pursi – The Rowing Song” transports listeners to a musical landscape that’s exotically thrilling.

Equally delicious is “Tuudittele Tuuli – Cradle, O Wind,” a duduk and clarinet laced lullaby. “Rauta – Iron” utilizes melody from a Spanish dulzaina with Finnish lyrics to conjure up a masterful track that comes across as fresh while tugging at ancient traditions.

Instrumental “The Edge of Autumn/Hayreniki Karot” is the epitome of elegance with the shimmer of zither and the lazy swirl of duduk. Fans get a dose of quirky with the catchy romp “Kulkija – The Walking Song.”

Additionally there is the vocally extravagant “Astele Oro – Step Careful, Stallion,” the delicate grace of the traditional Scots Gaelic tune of “The Recollection of That Day: O Chiadain An Lo/Lusabatz Ararati Vra” framed by lines of Mr. Aleksanyan’s duduk and the achingly lovely “Kazvatti – Four Sorrows” with traditional Karelian lyrics.

Kulku closes with the lush and fascinating “Kaik Mia Ilot Unohin – I Forgot All Joy, Stopped Singing the Songs” composed by trio Mr. Aleksanyan, Mr. Blake and Mr. Cronshaw with song melody by Ms. Kurki-Suonio.

While you might have gotten up not have known you needed a little Finnish singing in your life or that the kantele has the ability to float you in the air or firmly root you to the music of the earth or that duduk lines could float above a music composition like a soaring bird, there’s Kulku to take to a place you didn’t even know you wanted to go.

The album is available from andrewcronshaw.bandcamp.com

Author: TJ Nelson

TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.

Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.

Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.

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