Irish guitarist Mark O'Leary's "Astral Fishing" isn't avant-garde jazz album as some his previous works. Recorded in Helsinki in collaboration with two Finnish musicians - bassist Teppa Hauta-aho and drummer Olavi Louhivuori - this album contains ambient music,close to Robert Fripp's soundscapes.
Conceptual work is based on Helsinki architecture and described in liner notes as "architectural atmospheric ambience". This city is a place I discovered for myself somewhere in mid-80s and in which I am returning again and again. And it's really great how during his short visit Mark caught city's atmosphere!
Founded in 15 century Helsinki is quite young town (at least comparing with really old towns surrounding it in this part of Europe). It was a tiny place,far provincial corner of Swedish Kingdom for ages, and only in 18 century (when Sweden lost a lot of kingdom's eastern territories after unsuccessful wars with Russia)Helsinki started to grow as military for-post in North-West of Russian Empire). Still town got its recent face after Finland independence from Russia in 1918. Being a typical North European town means a lot of grey stone buildings and lot of water around.Winter time lasts almost half a year, with no sun in the sky week after week. Short and cool summer,nature almost has no bright colors at all. All you see around is not colored by different colors, but by hundred of half-tones of few ascetic basic colors (grey,brown,dark-blue, green - during short summer). Life goes a bit slower than in more southern places and doesn't show emotions in public. But it's far not a sad or depressive place - not at all!
I always reach Helsinki by same way - crossing the Bay Of Finland by ferry from thousand years old Tallinn. Few hours sea-travelling brings me from remembering early ages Tallinn's old town to the heart of Helsinki - lots of small islands and high dark Jugend-style buildings,facing the sea and coming and leaving seaboats. Vibrant open air market with fresh fish and souvenirs for tourists, small square with old cafe,children playing near city's fountain. Neo-classicist quarters are changing with more modern functionalist buildings, and you feel like you're in 30's or 50's, when technical progress and functionality looked like a civilization panacea from all troubles. The world is turned around from that time and what looked like panacea then looks like placebo now. But not in Helsinki.
Atmospheric,cold,liquid,rhytmless sound very slowly flows all album long. It's not dark or depressive, but ascetic, constructionist and has its own beauty, not in hordes,but in half-tones. Album's music is like Helsinki in wintertime - rational,never showing emotions, but optimistic and looking ahead. It's great to see how during his short visit O'Leary found out the spirit of the town!Yes, no mistake - it's true soundtrack to Helsinki's life, with ducks on clear first ice on city's lake, old trams, wooden building of winter botanical garden on the hill near lake with few red tropical flowers - the only bright points around and families,drinking hot coffee from paper cups inside... Just very few years before Robert Fripp recorded great live music one hundred kilometers south from here, in small Haapsalu church on Estonian coast. Similar soundscapes,but of quite different atmosphere - sacral and coming from early ages. O'Leary did in Art Nouveau Helsinki - and it works!