Petri Kumela is known as a guitar virtuoso who is equally comfortable with music old and new. He collaborates constantly with contemporary composers and has been assembling a collection of small character pieces for solo guitar since 2007. His instruction to composers was to name each piece after an animal smaller than a cat. The pieces were also supposed to be short.
The album Small Creatures features a considerable number (35) of these definitely diverse critters. One would be forgiven for thinking that 75 minutes of miniatures would get tedious after a while, but there is no danger of that, for two reasons: firstly, the progression of the pieces ensures that the listener’s interest is sustained, and secondly, Kumela is such a brilliant performer that even the musically less than fascinating creepy crawlies manage to sound interesting.
The takeaway from this album is its enormous range of tonal colour and mood. This is remarkable, considering that it was created entirely without electronics. Kumela can produce an astonishing variety of bumps, scrapes, squeaks, creaks and pitched sounds from his guitar, in addition to which he himself mutters, hums, smacks his lips and plays body percussion. Of course, some of the animals are represented with traditional guitar playing techniques.
These are stylistically very different beasts too. Some are honoured with breakneck virtuoso pieces (such as Kalliokirskuja [White-throated swift] by Räihälä), while others are given a character sketch (as with the tough-guy magpie who is weeping on the inside in Magpie Bones by Vainio, the explosively temperamental Rapu [Crab] by Klemola or Kumela’s own bluesy mole in the swinging and confident Paksun myyrän parempi passacaglia [Fat mole’s better passacaglia]). Some pieces depict an action, such as the shortest track on the album, Ai-ai by Kuokkala, which snaps up a morsel of food in only 17 seconds, and the longest, the rambling and moody Denise by Pisati, which clocks in at five and a half minutes.
To my taste, some pieces provide rather a surprising image of their subjects in an unexpected musical idiom, such as the cinematically heroic Ladybug by López Bellido or the bright, swinging and upbeat Praying Mantis by Domeniconi. This insect has a second portrait on the album as well, and to my mind a more apt one, Mantis by Sigal, whose muttered prayers and dark colours evoke a Medieval cloister, playing on the ‘praying’ aspect of the name to generate primeval feelings of fear and loathing.
Small Creatures – A Musical Bestiary
Petri Kumela, guitar
Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi