Barlast’s debut album Ihantola is out now.
Here’s a really interesting one. Finland’s Barlast (that’s Swedish for ‘ballast’) are ostensibly a jazz band. However, they incoporate influences from across the spectrum. There’s a touch of blues here and there, the avant garde, Middle Eastern tinges, folk explorations, and that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
Their debut album, Ihantola, is a joy, taking the listener on a journey of unexpected peaks and valleys of experimental and exploratory music. We had a chance to have a chat with band leader and bass player Philip Holm about the meaning behind the album title, and the stories behind each track on the album. There’s influences from French secularism to Nordic folk dances. It’s a trip.
I formed the band Barlast in 2016 after a period of composing and being influenced and inspired by the great folk music scene in Finland. Everything clicked in the first rehearsals, so we wanted to record soon and in less than a year after our first gig our debut record Ihantola was released.
Ihantola is the name of a 110 year old Jugend style apartment building in Helsinki. The building has an attic, and the attic has a round tower, and the tower has windows in almost every direction. A friend living in the building showed me the tower and I immediately thought that this would make for a cool place to record an album in. I’m still not sure if it was my best or worst idea ever, but it surely did influence the way the record turned out. The atmosphere at the recording sessions was special, and we managed to capture the city soundscape in a good way.
Ihantola is also a surname and has a meaning: A wonderful place, and I hope that’s where listening to the music transports you.
With the risk of oversimplifying you could say that Laïcité is French for secularism. Without going into too much detail, this track is a kind of lament of people not being able to live together peacefully. Musically it’s inspired by Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, with a simple saxophone theme repeated with variations. I used a handmade shaker put between my double bass strings to use the bass as a percussion instrument – something I picked up from the Finnish bass player Eero Tikkanen.
2. Sen vår
This is the oldest song on the album. Sen vår is Swedish and means “late spring” – something we definitely had in Helsinki in 2017 with snow in May! When I originally wrote this song, I wrote it to sound like an old jazz standard. With Barlast we omitted almost all of the original chords and made the whole song more free. This is one of the tracks were we got some great background noise on the recording. At one point (I won’t tell were!) you can here a dog barking and then Heikki, our guitar player, imitating the dog bark with his guitar. At another point you can here a siren.
3. Polska efter polska
This is a polska – one of the traditional Nordic folk dances. The band leader in one of my other bands asked me to bring some songs, so I went home and wrote the first part of this song. The next evening I finished the next part and had some ideas for a third part. Next day, a relative of mine passed away after being ill for some time. He was a musician and probably one of the reasons why I do music today. With these sad news in mind I finished the composition on the third night and dedicated it to him. So this track goes from being quite cheerful to a darker place, but in the end everything turns out OK.
4. Stilla vals
When recording this song, we had Norwegian fjords in mind. I imagined a lonely canoeist in a fjord where you can here the echo a mile away. Our woodwind player Sanna did some overdubs that to me sounds like whale singing.
Here we have Sanna playing the traditional instrument mänkeri and our drummer Minna playing flute. When writing this I was inspired by inuit throat singing and some apocalyptic radiation fallout visions. We let Heikki’s guitar beast out in the wild here, but I also admire Minna’s flute playing very much.
Hemlös, meaning homeless, is another song influenced by the Nordic folk melodies. I probably wouldn’t have written it without hearing the Jazz på Svenska record by Jan Johansson. The guitar part is freely improvised. With Barlast I wanted to explore some kind of minimalistic approach, and this is definately one of the more minimalistic tracks on the album. Minna is improvising on percussion over the guitar solo. Strangely, on the take that ended up on the record, she managed to sound like a dog. What is it with dogs and this album?
Advent was written while waiting for Christmas. Some years ago when dabbling in Nordic folk music it felt to me that a lot of the traditional tunes sound a bit like C parts or bridges. This song was composed with that in mind – parts that all seem to be leading somewhere, but where’s the actual theme? A bit like Christmas, where the waiting is the best part.
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