in Reviews

Breathtaking double-team improv

by Wif Stenger

“In Tölöläb, Elifantree have met their match, leading to their most ambitious, mature and cohesive album so far.”

Entering an Elifantree album can be like exploring a dark house, feeling your way around until your eyes become accustomed and you begin to appreciate the startling artworks and furnishings. Eventually each room becomes familiar; some become cosy hangouts while others remain uncomfortable and puzzling.

On their fifth album, the multi-genre Helsinki trio teams up with Tölöläb, an electroacoustic quintet pairing woodwinds and electronics. Together they’ve built a mansion with greater expanse and richer colours than any of Elifantree’s previous works.

Improvised live during Pekka Kuusisto’s Our Festival at Lake Tuusula, the collaboration is nearly unprecedented: two groups collaborating on an equal basis without pre-set rules. While this is Tölöläb’s recording debut, its members are seasoned pros, led by conductor, singer, clarinettist and electronics wizard Taavi Oramo, scion of one of Finland’s foremost musical clans.

In them, Elifantree have met their match, leading to their most ambitious, mature and cohesive album so far. It further confounds efforts to pigeonhole them, moving further away from jazz and synthpop toward what might be called contemporary classical or art music.

Swedish-Turkish singer Anni Elif has become one of Finland’s most distinctive, wide-ranging vocalists, never focusing on mere virtuosity but rather on earnestly conveying emotion and wonder.

While her voice has dominated earlier Elifantree outings, this time it is one of more than a dozen instruments, including her own cello and water drum. Pauli Lyytinen’s saxophones, too, keep a lower profile while he keeps busy on other instruments.

The nine-minute Horsehead Nebula is drummer Olavi Louhivuori’s tour de force, a frenetic mesh of polyrhythms that approach drum’n’bass intensity as Elif swoops from vocalise to an angry roar. 

Her singing is most tender on Out of Body and Sielu, which start side two. The album closes with three instrumentals: Queen Ant, which wouldn’t be out of place on a ‘70s prog album, Alnitak with its surprising twists and brief dissonance, and Mintaka, where filigree woodwind solos bring the set to peaceful conclusion.

Anni Elif – vocals, cello, shaker, aqua drum
Pauli Lyytinen – saxophones, electric wind instrument (EWI), live effects, drum machine
Olavi Louhivuori – drums, percussion

Taavi Oramo – live electronics
Antti Salovaara – bassoon
Saku Mattila – oboe
Turkka Inkilä – flute, shakuhachi, live electronics


Eclipse Music ELP-201991