An instrument normally associated with antique folk music and fey sea-shanties, the accordion has become, in Kimmo Pohjonen’s hands, a dangerous weapon. Over the last three decades the native of Finland has made it his personal mission to preserve and expand the capabilities of the instrument, applying it to a dizzying range of musical styles, from rock and folk to classical and electronic.
“My father played the accordion,” Pohjonen. “I started playing via his instruction. We lived in a small village 200 km from Helsinki called Viiala, where there were many accordion players, mostly elderly. I was the only young one there.”
As a teenager, Pohjonen studied at the Helsinki Conservatory and later at the famous Sibelius Academy. By the 1990s, he had become a name in Finnish folk music. It was when offered a solo spot at a festival in Järvenpää in 1996 that he decided to do something avant-garde and experimented with amplification.
Since then, Pohjonen has played on over 75 albums. He has been named Accordionist of the Year several times, has collaborated with a vast array of artists from rock band Ismo Alanko Säätiö to the 15-piece Tapiola Sinfonietta orchestra, and has performed music for theatre, ballet and modern dance.
In 2001 he formed the experimental Kluster project alongside percussionist and sampler whiz Samuli Kosminen. “I needed two drummers for a show I was doing,” explains Pohjonen. “We found Samuli and his friend and during rehearsal I was thinking about having my own band. Then Samuli introduced this electronic instrument to me and said he could sample things and loop them with it. I was blown away. I said, ‘This is the percussionist I want to play with.’ The idea of Kluster is that we work with electronics and Samuli’s percussion, plus the sounds he is making by sampling my accordion and voice and looping it. We create something unique from that which we’ve been able to take around the world to world, jazz, electronic and folk festivals.”
More recently, Pohjonen has fused the swirling, cosmic darkness of Kluster with the work of two equally adventurous musicians, former King Crimson members Trey Gunn and Pat Matelotoo, who came together in 2004 to form the experimental combo TU. With Pohjonen on accordion and voice, Samuli on samples, Trey on Warr guitar and Pat on “traps and buttons,” the resultant project, named KTU (pronounced K2), is texturally dense and strong on improvisation.
“It’s an interesting combination,” chirps Pohjonen. “I’m very happy about it. The last few years have been about my solo work and Kluster, and this is the first time for a long while that I’ve worked with something so big. There’s bass and guitars and drums and it’s nice to have everything all moving at once. Last month we played in Germany and the set worked really well for bigger audiences. It was great to have that dynamic in front of 5,000 people.”
The idea for KTU came about at the South by Southwest convention in Austin, Texas in 1999 when Pohjonen shared a bill with Mastelotto/Gunn/Fripp’s Project Three at the Electric Lounge. The quartet gradually took shape over the following five years as it worked on pieces composed by both duos, adding arrangements and improvisations along the way.
The subsequent recording, Eight Armed Monkey (Rockadillo), covers a vast ocean of sound. Though everything Pohjonen does has an avant-garde edge, KTU combines his exploratory approach with serious doses of rock. Consisting of just five tracks between eight and 10 minutes long, it’s an album of g