Tuomo and Markus, The Borderline, London, 12th November 2018

When offered the opportunity to hear Finnish musicians Tuomo & Markus and their band in the intimate surroundings of Soho’s Borderline club it seems plain stupid not to turn up, if only out of curiosity – the phenomenon this legendary basement has long traded upon. The fact that Tuomo Prättälä and longtime collaborator Markus Nordenstreng (of Finnish band The Latebirds) are joined by Nordic jazz trumpet superstar Verneri Pohjola means it doesn’t take long before the surreality of finding yourself in this subterranean netherworld on a Monday evening begins to seem perfectly normal. And why wouldn’t it when the finely honed ‘Over the Rooftops’ immediately takes you elsewhere – a uniquely Nordic vision of Americana. Insistently repetitive guitars emulate migratory flight, a voyage across the wide-open spaces of the American continent and the forests and ice of Finland. A trajectory determined by the song writing sensibilities of Markus combined with the gentle artistry of Tuomo.

Their new album ‘Dead Circles’, from which most of tonight’s set list is lifted, was actually recorded at Wavelab studios in downtown Tuscon, Arizona, and features contributions from studio regulars, The Jayhawks, Calexico and indie rockers Wilco, a conflagration of talent that scorches a searing groove through the landscape of Americana. ‘Life Leaving Your Body’ allows the unmistakable sound of Pohjola’s trumpet to take centre stage. In Finnish mythology Pohjola is a cold, dark and terrible place, yet the sound made by Pohjola’s trumpet is as warm as a bear hug and shimmers like the Northern Lights over Lapland. That said, their sound which includes elements of folk, country, blues, jazz and even a touch of soul – psychedelia defies both borders and genres. This is music made to be listened to, wherever you happen to be, not talked about.

Up until now the harmonies and close guitars have all sounded a bit Crosby Stills & Nash meets the Dead then something rather unexpected happens. ‘On The Land of Real Men’ metronomic guitars combine with an almost Flugel horn-sounding trumpet to evoke shades of the Floyd at their most mesmeric. As unlikely as it is welcome, the streets above our head suddenly feel further away than ever. A night that has been low-key in every respect so far picks up pace with the engaging ‘Never Too Late For One More’ and continues with ‘Don’t Shut Down Your Radio’. Lyrically similar, both songs accentuate the importance of remaining open to new experiences, and boy, I’m glad I did, or I’d have missed the compelling ‘Vanity Blinds’ and the pure film noir of ‘Cold Blooded’. A short set, but enough to make you want to hear more. Much more!

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