In Finnish Kalevala mythology kokko refers to a gigantic eagle, a mythical creature of the air having many forms, as does the music of Kokko Quartet. Vibrant influences from Indian and Arabic music as well as Cuban rhythms spice up the cool Scandinavian sound. On their debut album Like a River the quartet is joined by two guest musicians, Ricardo Padilla on percussion and Mikko Koivisto on tabla drums on the title track. Padilla plays a variety of percussion instruments from Latin America and Africa including the cajón, congas, the daff, the darbouka and the udu. These instruments add exciting sounds and textures to the album.
The group, led by pianist and composer Johanna Pitkänen, brings together four experienced musicians from the Helsinki area: Pitkänen, a pianist and composer who has played with groups performing Arabic music as well as flamenco and performed at festivals in Finland and in Estonia; saxophone player Kaisa Siirala who has played with bands ranging from trios to a big band and performed in India, Japan, Namibia, Peru, South Africa and many European countries; bass player Timo Tuppurainen, who has played with bands such as U-Street All Stars and Lenni-Kalle Taipale Trio and toured in USA, India, Russia and many times in Europe; and drummer Risto Takala, who has played with many Finnish bands representing different styles from pop to jazz. Intuitively, these four musicians move through the music with a spirit of great freedom in their interplay.
The songs on the album are written by Pitkänen, Siirala and Tuppurainen. Pitkänen’s songs have traces from her professional path, having come across many musical cultures during her career. Being inspired by these experiences, she was bound to start creating her own music with all these different influences coming together. Behind each song lies a story or a memorable experience. The title track Like a River was inspired by the novel A River Sutra by Indian-born writer Gita Mehta. Yasmin owes its title to the so-called Yasmin revolution, seen from a distance through the media. The song has dramatic mood changes and leaves a lot of space for the soloist. Saxophone player Siirala skillfully seizes this opportunity in her solo which leans towards free improvisation. The daff and darbouka played by Padilla as well as the celesta played by Pitkänen give this piece an oriental feel.
There are two songs by Siirala on the album. The songs Indy and Gokulam were written on Siirala’s two separate trips to India. Both songs have a mixture of different influences. Indy contains references to Indian ragas in its melody but gets its rhythmic base from Cuban music. About Gokulam Siirala says: “The atmosphere of the song has beautiful Indian mysticism, but also a degree of ugliness. There is a sense of waiting for a change for the better, as well as longing for the familiar Finnish landscapes.” The album also features two songs by bass player Tuppurainen. About his song Flying Tuppurainen says: “I wanted to create a mood similar to that of Keith Jarret’s and Jan Garbarek’s music in the 70’s. I hope this song will embody both the joy of life and the spirit of flying.”
A sense of clarity in aesthetics is what ties the whole album together and makes it listener friendly. There’s also a feeling of timelesness that makes the listening experience at times almost meditative.
Kaisa Siirala, Alto and Soprano Saxophones, Bansuri Flute
Johanna Pitkänen, piano, Fender Rhodes, Hammond Organ, Celesta
Timo Tuppurainen, bass
Risto Takala, drums
Ricardo Padilla, percussion on tracks 1, 5, 8, 9 and 10
Mikko Koivisto, tabla drums on track 4