In this beautifully produced CD package, one of the many photographs is an outdoor group shot. The 10 musicians of Loco Motife, swathed in scarves and fur parkas and stocking caps, make Porvoo, Finland, from whence Penguin Beguine emanates, look like a very cold place.
The music is far from cold, though it's quite odd. The coleaders are keyboardist Iro Haarla (widow of Finland's most famous jazz musician, Edward Vesala) and Ulf Krokfors (one of the band's two bassists). One of the unusual aspects is the stark juxtaposition of compositional structure and individual freedom. Even the most frenzied collective improvisations, like on the title track, cohere back to planned counterpoint. There is visceral excitement in this ensemble's electric bite and edgy texture, but unfortunately the most prominent voice is Haarla's. We are told that many of her keyboard instruments (Yamaha DX-7, BBG synthesizer, Emax sampler, et al) are vintage models. But she treats them like new toys, unable to resist their vast capacity for twitters and gurgles and burps. Haarla's ungrammatical English lyrics on the only vocal, "Beside You," are inane and sentimental.
Still, Loco Motife sounds like no other band, and you should go hear them the next time you're in Porvoo. Bundle up.