Polenta grabbed the attention of folk music audiences when they won the Konsta Jylhä competition at the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival. It was immediately obvious that this quartet was maturing into something really special. The coronavirus pandemic delayed the release of their début album, whose decidedly tongue-in-cheek title did nothing to dampen the realisation that this disc was well worth the wait.
The dozen tracks on the disc contain familiar gems of Finnish folk music, from original tunes by Konsta Jylhä to traditional pieces from Kaustinen. Somehow Polenta manage to make them sound fresh and durable. None of the band members are actually from Kaustinen – perhaps that is what prompted looking at this material from a different angle? The disc was produced by Esko Järvelä, a fiddler from Kaustinen.
Listening to this material as a folk musician is like looking at an everyday object through a kaleidoscope: details, colours and shapes are revealed that I have not previously noticed. Polenta’s innovative arrangements highlight the natural rhythms and lovely melodies of these traditional pieces, and their sound world extends to a grand cinematic feel, complete with angelic harmonies. It is easy to forget that there are only two different instruments here: guitar played by Mikko Malmivaara and violins played by Jonna Lankinen, Aino Kinnunen and Olli Sippola. In this violin-wall-and-guitar combo, lead and accompaniment roles vary regularly. This is particularly apparent in the Konsta Jylhä tunes Tähtisilmävalssi and Penttilän sillalla.
For a listener not very familiar with folk music, this is a good entry point, because the music is quite accessible, energising and catchy, conveying the joy of making music together. I am curious to see where the band will go next. What worlds would they explore if they began to write their own material?
Polenta: Kaustinen Turbo
Kansanmusiikki-instituutti KICD 146, 2021
Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi