TANGO-ORKESTERI UNTO: Yön tummat siivet – Dark Wings of the Night

A well-cooked tango menu

Tango Orchestra Unto act as inspiring ambassadors for Finnish tango, performing it at a high level with a dream team of musicians. The variety is pretty much based on the tunes themselves, from well-known old composers to recently composed tangos. This time I’m especially impressed by the slow and lyrical tangos, although sometimes I fear the danceable side of the tango starts to get lost. The arrangements stand out especially in the most famous tune, “Eron hetki on kaunis”, with some cool walking bass and Vivaldi-like violin passages.

Tove Djupsjöbacka, Finnish Music Quartely (

Dark Wings of the Night reviewed by National Australian Rhythm Magazine

TANGO_Rhythm Mag

Reviewed by Fiona Talkington( Songlines , July 2015)

Star-studded supergroup of Finnish tango

There’s something dark and secretive about Finnish tango; that is its great attraction. Listen to archive recordings from the 40s and it’s clearly a musical world unlike any other. Tango is certainly alive and well in Finland today, which hosts an annual tango festival in Seinäjoki attracting over 100,000 visitors every year.

Tango-Orkesteri Unto are named after legendary Finnish tango composer Unto Mononen and in Dark Wings of the Night they’ve released their best album to date. The members of the orchestra are all prominent performers of the Finnish music scene: the great pianist and composer Timo Alakotila, accordion superstar Johanna Juhola, Mauno Järvelä from JPP and bassist Hannu Rantanen. There’s exquisite guitar playing from Petri Hakala and warm vocals from Pirjo Aittomäki. As well as some cornerstones of the tango repertoire, there are new compositions too, such as Juhola’s restless account of argument and reconciliation in ‘Huudetaan’ or Timo Alakotila’s 7/8 tango ‘Humalapuu’ – which is, just for once, happy tango music.

Reviews for Kylmä rakkaus – Cold Love, Finnish Tango Vol. II (ARC 2010)

“Soulful latin romanticism… from Finland?
Great stuff, a set of original modern tangos with Finnish-language lyrics and grand, romantic arrangements. Vocalist Pirjo Aittomaki has a lovely voice — yearning, soaring, both edgy and sweet — and she fills the album with warm, evocative tones. The rest of the group is solid as well, particularly accordionist Johanna Juhola, the group’s other female member. Tango lovers, particularly those who are drawn to its far-flung global expressions, will love this record — it’s grand and romantic, suffused with tragedy and longing, and solid from start to, um, Finnish. Highly recommended!” -DJ Joe Sixpack, Slipcue Guide To World Music,September 13, 2010


“The tango has had a long history in Finland, dating back to the World War I era, although the Finns took the genre in directions that were quite foreign to the Argentinian and Uruguayan traditions. For example, the Finnish tangos are mostly performed in minor keys, and the main instrument is usually the accordion rather than the bandoneon. Anyone seeking to find out more about the history of Finnischer Tango should seek out two superb (albeit hard-to-find) compilations bearing that name on the German Trikont label. Another option is to seek out an excellent recent example of the genre: The sextet known as Tango-Orkestri Unto, named after Finnish tango composer Unto Mononen, is led by pianist-arranger Timo Alakotila (a founding member of JPP) and includes singer Pirjo Aittomäki, well-known Finnish accordionist Johanna Juhola, violinist Mauno Järvela (also of JPP), and the bassist from Värttinä. Besides compositions by members of the group as well as by Mononen, the album (the group’s second) also features recent poems set to nuanced music of longing and passion.” -Paul-Emile Comeau, Comeauville, NS, Canada,


“Ah, and here, just as I was about to hit the deadline with that review, comes a new album by the aforementioned Tango-Orkesteri Unto that so elevated a sunny June Sunday lunchtime at World Village. Johanna Juhola, JPP’s Mauno Järvelä and Timo Alakotila on violin and piano, guitarist Petri Hakala and bassist Hannu Rantanen back singer Pirjo Aittomäki, a prime exponent of the warmly caressing strength and serenity that’s characteristic of female Finnish vocal sound.
Finnish tango is a different beast from its Argentinian precursors, and continues to evolve in a different direction, musically and in its lyrics of love and loss set against Finland’s wide landscape of endless green pine and birch taiga forests and lakes and its climate of cold winters and short, intensely celebrated and often hot summers.
Unto makes rich, swirling, beautifully played and gorgeously arranged music more evocative of ornate cafés and tea-dances than the rural dance-floors of Finnish folk tango, with something of the longing and passion of Portuguese fado; indeed the orchestra was formed to play at Expo’98 in Lisbon. This second CD brings a heart-rendingly seductive, surging set of material from Finnish composers and poets from the mid 20th century into the 21st, including Juhola, Alakotila and the doyen of Finnish tango composition from whom the band takes its name, Unto Mononen.”-Andrew Cronshaw, fRoots


“Tango is big in Finland. It has been since the country first heard the style and fell in love with it. It’s so big, in fact, that the Finns have developed their own style of tango, as demonstrated by the Tango-Orkesteri Unto (named in honor of a famous Finnish tango musician). On their second volume of tango songs, they show that a small group — five pieces in total — can create a very big and highly sophisticated noise. Singer Pirjo Aittomäki is a laid-back standout, with a voice as soft as velvet, and everyone else in the ensemble is just as good. There’s plenty to delight any tango lover, like the glittering instrumental work of “Rannalla,” for example, or the care that went into the arrangements throughout. It’ll make a convert of anyone who likes the genre, and this is a band at the very top of its game.” -Chris Nickson, Rovi


… the band truly is the dream team of Finnish tango… Tango classics and new tangos create an even and stylish whole, which should be remembered when planning souvenirs from Finland.”"… the band truly is the dream team of Finnish tango… Tango classics and new tangos create an even and stylish whole, which should be remembered when planning souvenirs from Finland. -Riikka Hiltunen, Finnish Music Quarterly

Concert reviews

Finnish Tango Strikes a Chord (Bludenz, Austria 9.3.2012)

BLUDENZ. (cm) Last week, “Fremde Nähe” presented Finnish tango at the Remise Bludenz. Johanna Juhola and the Tango-orkesteri Unto played a heartfelt tango with German roots, Finnish melancholy and Argentinian elements. The musicians’ brilliant, uncompromising playing provided an evening of musical entertainment at the very highest level.

The Finnish tango wove its magic, filling the packed house with marvellous stories of far-flung places and different times. Composer Johanna Juhola’s unique melodies draw on both traditional and foreign influences. The fantasy, power and passion of “Cold Love – Finnish Tango” was particularly moving. – CM, Bludenz Ansteigner


Minor Chords and the Yearning of the Finnish Tango (Folkbaltica 4 / 2007)

Eckenförde – a cosy concert was played to a packed house at the Siegfried-Werft Hotel in Eckenförde. “They were sitting so close to me, it was scary”, singer Pirjo Aittomäki joked in English. Meanwhile the six-person tango Orkesteri Unto squeezed themselves behind their instruments. The only scary thing for the 120-strong audience was watching star accordionist Johanna Juhola. There were several times during the evening when the passionate violin playing of fellow-soloist Mauno Järvelä almost resulted in a violin bow hitting her in the eye.

Before the concert began, Pirjo Aittomäki explained how the Finnish tango revolves around a sense of yearning. It is distinguished from the Argentinian tango by its almost exclusive performance in minor keys. Pirjo Aittomäki’s voice also has a yearning, soft, warm tone, spinning a fine web around most of the pieces that were performed during the evening, such as Eric Lindström’s melancholy “Cold Love”. In contrast, “The Homeland of Tango” is more up-tempo with an ironic undertone as it tells the story of a Finn who sails to Argentina and then drunkenly takes it upon himself to explain the dance to the local people. It’s not necessary to understand Finnish in order to enjoy Pirjo taking off her countryman’s inane prattling.  

Along with dynamic musical director and pianist Timo Alakotila – who blithely raised his seat with the aid of a couple of telephone books – the other outstanding performer was star accordionist Johanna Juhola – not just because of her strange hairdo of dreadlocks arranged into two horns. With an impish grin and extreme concentration, the 29-year-old accompanied each piece with her own melodies that seemed to be only vaguely connected to the given rhythm. Seemingly at one with her instrument, she created the most amazing musical tones ranging from soft to hard, swapping the lead constantly with Järvelä’s violin.

We should also mention the orchestra’s namesake and Finnish master composer Unto Mononen. His legendary “Fairyland” is the best-known Finnish tango and has become the country’s unofficial national anthem.  A Finnish version of Friedrich Holländer’s little-known work “Eine kleine Sehnsucht” was also played, with Pirjo Aittomäki singing a verse in perfect accent-free German. An encore and rapturous applause brought this Finnish tango evening to a close: an evening that was memorable for the Finnish performers’ professionalism and their joy in playing, but also because of the way they created such a friendly, almost family atmosphere.  -Niko Wassmaund, Flensburger Tageblatt 20.4.2007


Folkbaltica 2007

Moll-lastige Sehnsucht des finnischen Tangos

Eckenförde – Gemütliche Enge im ausverkauften Saal der Eckenförder Siegfried-Werf. “Sie sitzen so nah vor mir, das macht mir Angst, scherzt Sängerin Pirjo Aittomäki charmant auf Englisch. Derweil quetscht sich das sechsköpfige tango Orkesteri Unto gemächlich hinter die Instrumente. Angst haben die 120 Besucher höchstens um Star-Akkordeonisten Johanna Juhola. Deren wachen Augen nämlich kommt der Violinen-Bogen von Sitznachbar und solistischem Mitstreiter Mauno Järvelä im Verlauf des Abends beim leidenschaftlichem Spiel einige male gefährlich nah.

Dien Sehnsucht, so doziert Pirjo Aittomäki kurz nach begin des Konzerts, stünde ganz im Mittelpunkt des finnischen Tangos. Letzterer unterscheidet sich in seiner charakteristischen Moll-Lastigkeit tatsächlich maβgeblich vom argentinischen Vorbild. Sehnsüchtig, sanft und warm klingt den auch Pirjo Aittomäkis Stimme, die sich wie ein feiner Schleier über die meisten stücke des Abends legt, wie etwa bei Eric Lindströms melancholischem “Cold Love”. Eher schwungvoll mit ironischem Unterton erzählt “The Homeland of tango” die Geschichte eines Finnen, der – mit dem Schiff in Argentinien angekommen -, volltrunken den Eingeborenen ihren Tanz erklären will. man muss des Finnischen nicht mäctig sein, wenn Pirjo ihren lallenden Landesmann mimt.

Neben den dynamisch brillanten musikalischen Leiter und Pianisten Timo Alakotila – er hat seinen Sitz ganz ungeniert mit einigen Telefonbüchern erhöht – fällt vor allem Star-Akkordionisten Johanna Juhola auf, nicht nut wegen der zu zwei bizarren Schnecken aufgedrehten Filzfrisur. Mit verschmitztem Lächeln – zugleich jedoch hoch konzentriert – spielt di 29-Jährige ihre ganz einige Melodie zum jeweiligen Stück – scheinbar nurmehr grob an den vorgegebenen takt gebunden. Die Finnin bringt verschmolzen mit ihrem Instrument die unglaublichsten Klanfarben zwischen zart und hart zum Ausdruck, last im spielerischen Wechsel immer wieder auch Järveläs Violinen das Kommando übernehmen.

Nicht fehlen darf im Repertoire der Orchester-Namensgeber und finnische Meisterkomponist Unto Mononen. Dessen legendäres “Fairyland” ist der bekannteste finnische Tango, der als inoffizielle Landeshymne gilt. Doch auch ein “finnlandisierter” Friedrich Holländer kommt mit seiner eher unbekannten Nummer “Eine kleine Sehnsucht” zu Gehör, wobei Pirjo Aittomäki es nicht nehmen last, eine Strophe in akzentfreiem Deutsch zu singen. Eine Zugabe und nicht enden wollender Aplaus beschliβen einen finnischen tangoabend, der nicht nut durch Professionalität und Spielfreude, sondern auch durch die geradezu familiar Atmosphäre und das hochsympatische Auftreten der Finnen gewinnt. -NIKO WASMUND, Flensburger Tageblatt 20.4.2007