The key ingredients of the Finnish tango are longing and passion. Tango-orkesteri Unto’s music is firmly rooted in both. The six virtuosos led by pianist-arranger Timo Alakotila salute the classic Finnish tango with their freshly-nuanced, powerful renditions of works by Unto Mononen and Toivo Kärki, the most prominent composers of the genre, as well as a growing repertoire of contemporary tangos. The varied musical backgrounds of Unto’s musicians – from world music and jazz to theatre music and tango nuevo – imprint their music with a wealth of influences, freedom of playing and depth of interpretation. Tango-orkesteri Unto’s music breathes and flows with exceptional freedom.
Tango-orkesteri Unto, named after the great tango composer Unto Mononen, was founded in 1998 at the initiative of the Finnish Performing Music Promotion Centre to promote Finnish tango at EXPO’98 in Lisbon. Since then, the band has performed abroad and domestically, earning a warm reception from audiences and press alike. Unto has enchanted concert audiences in France, Germany, Great Britain, Switzerland and the United States. Also tango dancers find Unto´s music inspiring: tangueros have been seen twirling around in many of Unto’s concerts.
On their debut album, Finnish Tango, released by ARC Music in 2003, Tango-orkesteri Unto interpreted a selection of the most beloved Finnish tangos. On their second album, Kylmä rakkaus – Cold Love: Finnish Tango, Vol. II (ARC, 2010), the band again explored evergreen tangos but also introduced original settings of Finnish poetry by Timo Alakotila and Johanna Juhola as well as renowned Finnish songwriters like Jussi Tuurna and Anna-Mari Kähärä.
Featuring two new songs by Kähärä, the newest album “Dark Wings of the Night” (ARC) released in April 2015, extends the tradition laid down by its predecessors, a sophisticated, mature reimagining of the Argentinean and Finnish tango traditions. The selections have a broad range, from 1940s and ’50s chestnuts by Kärki to brand-new pieces by Alakotila and the group’s youngest member, accordionist Juhola. All are woven together seamlessly in the ensemble’s own distinctive, elegant style. The acoustic sextet soars along in a wholly natural sense of flight, sweeping the listener along with them.
Lyricists range from the trailblazing modernist poet and novelist Marja-Liisa Vartio, who died in 1966, and eminent writer and translator Matti Rossi to acclaimed contemporary novelists and actresses Anna-Leena Härkönen and Eppu Nuotio – as well as Pirkko Arola, a Lutheran pastor, and Elina Lajunen, a visual artist, writer and tango dancer.
Even those who don’t catch the meaning of the words can savour their sound. Each of these lyricists has an exquisite sense of the musical quality of words. This is conveyed precisely in singer Pirjo Aittomäki’s warm mezzo-soprano tone. Her background, from leading roles in musicals to jazz and world music influenced vocal groups, gives her the breadth of expression and power to suit each song, whether a triumphant anthem or an intimate, suspended moment.
The members of Tango-orkesteri Unto are all prominent figures in the Finnish world music and jazz scenes, having played with groups such as Värttinä, JPP, Troka, How Many Sisters, Johanna Juhola Reaktori, Las Chicas del Tango and the UMO Jazz Orchestra as well as Raoul Björkenheim, Maria Kalaniemi & Aldargaz among others.
Finnish tango is alive and well in the hands of Tango-orkesteri Unto!