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Olli Ahvenlahti & UMO: Seawinds – The Complete YLE Studio Recordings 1976-1981

In many countries, state-owned radio companies took a significant role in recording and broadcasting music that did not interest commercial firms. This was also the case in Finland.

Even though Finnish Broadcasting Company Yleisradio, known as Yle, was not actually a state corporation but a license-based joint-stock company, it was a public service that had a total monopoly on the Finnish radio waves.

Yleisradio had earlierly had its own dance and jazz orchestras but by the mid-1970s they were gone and the company began to rely on external productions. This was good news for UMO which at the time was an association-based organisation (it would not reach full public support until the mid-1980s). In order to survive, UMO created and maintained a strong connection with Yle which provided financial funding for the group. In response, Yle had a permission to record and broadcast UMO material.

Everyone was happy: Yle appeared as patron of arts. UMO was able to develop its musical adventures. Jazz aficionados were served with new big band music.

The arrangement had only one weakness. Once the performance had been recorded, the original copy of the tape, kantanauha, literally ‘root tape’, was not used to produce other copies. Yle had permanent rights for broadcasting the recordings (most of which were studio takes), but in reality the master tapes remained unused in the company’s archives.

From the 1970s to the early 1980s, Olli Ahvenlahti had a major role in UMO. He played keyboards in the group between 1977 and 1982. Furthermore, he wrote and arranged 16 compositions for the orchestra. The pieces were recorded, too. Apart from one tune, Memories, which resulted in the fourth UMO album Umophilos in 1979 (another arrangement appeared in Ahvenlahti’s third solo album) the compositions fell into the Yle kantanauha category and therefore did not appear in record formats.

The first three Ahvenlahti tunes for UMO were recorded in December 1976 at the famous Finnvox studios in Pitäjänmäki area, Helsinki. At the time, Ahvenlahti was not yet a member of the group and the piano parts were played by Heikki Sarmanto, a prominent figure in Finnish jazz life and, as a matter of fact, one of the founding fathers of UMO.

Ahvenlahti’s interest in Latin American culture had already been heard in his solo albums and here they appear again – yet not as strikingly as the titles might suggest. Referring to the famous military barracks in Santiago de Cuba, Moncada is a fast-paced number completed by twisting, Zappa-like melody lines. Caribbean Queen is a wistful mid-tempo jazz tune. The title El Floridita pays homage to Ernest Hemingway’s cocktail bar in Havana but the performance itself is a groovy jazz funk jam served with energetic solos, strong horn riffs and Ahvenlahti’s electric keyboards.

In October 1977, Yleisradio and UMO headed again to Pitäjänmäki, but this time they decided to use the services of the new Soundtrack studios. The session included one composition by Ahvenlahti who by now had become a full member of the group. Borrowing the idea from the traditional American dance form, the entertaining Square Dance revolves around captivating horn melodies and driving rhythms. Chorus, a twofold composition that swings between an elegiac ballad and a driving big band number, was recorded in another Soundtrack session six months later.

In December 1978, UMO performed Ahvenlahti’s rhythmic dedication to Cuban musician Paquito D’Rivera. Eleven months later, during the darkest hour of the Finnish year, it was time for Sunset Song. Soloed by Juhani Aaltonen with his flute and Markku Johansson with trumpet, the number is a distinctive example of how melancholy is given a certain memory-like feeling in many of Ahvenlahti’s works.

Over the years, Ahvenlahti’s musical activities had had associations with literature, poetry and writing. Gradually, these elements became more prominent. Originally written for a shipping company in Åland, Seawinds was an ambitious five-part “jazz opera”. The UMO version was recorded at the MTV studios in April 1981. Two months earlier Ahvenlahti had finished his album Based on a Novel at the same studio complex. Both recording projects testify how certain kind of filmic elements as well as influences of folk music were high on Ahvenlahti’s agenda in the early 1980s.

New qualities entered to the Ahvenlahti & UMO collaboration in the early 1980s when Irina Milan, one of the most visible singers in Finland at the time, visited recording sessions. As a result, the adaptation of Marja-Liisa Vartio’s classic poem from the 1960s, Tanssi (“Dance”), for example, could have been an arrangement meant for Ultra Bra, a band that conquered Finnish music life twenty years later with its big sound and catchy melodies.

On the other hand, old interests did not go away. Whereas Päättymätön laulu (“Neverending song”) is given a hot Latin treatment typical to Ahvenlahti, the final song here, Lapsen uni (“Child’s dream”), begins with a simple yet an effective one-note piano clicking and Milan’s personal vocals. The tune appears to be a perfect ending for the collection of Ahvenlahti & UMO tapes.

 

Mondada
Caribbean Queen
El Floridita
Square Dance
Chorus
Paquito
Sunset Song
Seawinds, part 1: Prologue
Seawinds, part 2: Waves of Yesterday
Seawinds, part 3: Break of Dawn
Seawinds, part 4: The Fisherman
Seawinds, part 5: Lighthouse song
Tanssi
Päättymätön laulu
Lapsen uni