Crisp and cool: mature melodies from Külm Mai
Archived Articles 06 Oct 2006 Otepää SlimEWR
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Külm Mai. Igasugused, MAI001, 2005, 44:48

We are well into harvest season, the bountiful offerings from orchards and fields pleasing the palate and bringing colour to the table. The taste itself is always worth the wait, a crisp and juicy apple so much better than a green one picked too soon. In some cases it even pays to harvest after the first frost — the icewine industry is proof that after the warmth of summer a cold snap can capture the flavour in a most extraordinary and delicious way.

Waiting for fruit to ripen is akin to anticipating musical releases hit our [turn]tables. As is often the case with new bands hearing about them comes before hearing them. Word of a new CD, recorded in October of 2005 by a quartet of musicians from Tartu calling themselves Külm Mai reached these shores in January. The music was much longer in coming. Their CD "Igasugused" has finally made it from Tartu. Some things just cannot be rushed.

Külm Mai, or Cold May take their name from the fact that it was an extraordinarily cold day in May of 2005, when they first met. The members are all seasoned musicians of considerable talent and experience. The most prominent perhaps is InBoil of Jäääär and Jääboiler renown, but it was the presence of former Torontonian Hillar Tork that prompted interest here. And as it turned out, rightly so - for Tork's compositions are truly the standouts on what is by most measures a solid, if not dazzling recording.

That is not to say that the other members are slouches. Heikki Kalle is the primary composer, InBoil the lyricist of all cuts, save two poems of Indrek Hirv's that the band has set to music. Kalle plays acoustic guitar, piano and contributes vocals, InBoil is the lead singer and handles the percussion, Pille Vilgota is featured on keyboards and vocals. Tork takes care of both acoustic and electric guitar with added vocal work, as well as contributing the most original sounds on the platter with the e-bow.

To call an e-bow an instrument is a misnomer - it is part of the guitar player's arsenal, much like a pick or bottle-slide. Or brushes for a drummer. An e-bow is a hand-held electronic device which creates an electromagnetic field which moves the strings. No finger or pick contact is required. The sound is reminiscent of a traditional bow on strings — yet by varying its position, fade-in and fade-out, various lapping overtones can be created. In the hands of a master the e-bow can produce myriad sounds — ranging from dreamy reverbs to a bagpipe-type drone.

Tork's three thoughtful tunes on the CD make wonderful use of these effects. The reflective ballad "Mälestus", featuring the dulcet Vilgota is sweet on the ear, the e bow's effect hypnotic and soothing . "Kust mina tean" is as fine a pensive popsong as there can be, while "Ükskõik" emphasizes the intentional distance from their audience that musicians sometimes affect. (That is an InBoil trademark, and perhaps not always welcome over the duration of an entire recording. Indeed, the fellow who found the CD for me in Tartu dismissed "Igasugused" as appropriately named: sundry and typical Estonian folk-pop/rock pontifications.)

For the discerning listener, however, there are many layers to this CD, reflecting careful deliberation. The masterful arrangements, the seamless performance and the tightness of the sound are examples of taking this care. No tree in any orchard bears identically tasting fruit from year to year. The first harvest from Külm Mai is a carefully nurtured high-yield crop of a pleasing crisp and cool musical maturity. Well worth the anticipation.
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