There's no doubt about it; Jan-Olof Strandberg is one of Finland's best bass players. I already noticed that when I reviewed Paidarion's new album Behind The Curtains (see review). At the time, I wrote that maybe the finest musician on this album is Jan-Olof Strandberg. His bass playing is extraordinary and can easily be compared to people like Mark King, Tony Levin, Jaco Pastorius or Stanley Clarke. It doesn't make any difference whether he plays fretless or on the four-, five- or six-string bass guitars. He can handle them all.
Back then I didn't know that he had a musical career of his own that already started in the seventies. He played with musicians like Jukka Tolonen (Tasavallan Presidentti) and Esa Kotilainen (Wigwam). From that moment on he appeared on numerous albums and TV-shows. He toured as a solo artist and with his own Strandberg Project. Between 2005 and 2007 he was a member of The Fusion Project. The last couple of years he worked and recorded with musicians as Paul Jackson (Herbie Hancock), Armand Sabal-Lecco (Paul Simon), Dominique Di Piazza (John McLaughlin), Michael Manring and Jukka Gustavson (Wigwam). In addition Strandberg is also a member of Progression and the already mentioned Paidarion.
Made In Finland is the latest CD he recorded with the Strandberg Project. On this album he worked with people as bassist Michael Manring, keyboardist Kimmo Tapanainen, saxophonist Risto Salmi, drummer Kimmo Pörsti and the guitar players Matias Kupiainen and Petteri Hirvanen. You would expect that the album contains all kinds of bass patterns and solos to show off Strandberg's greatness on the bass guitar. However, that's not completely the case. Sure, on many tracks his bass guitar is very prominent in the overall sound. Take for example the opening tune Crossover. On this fine mellow piece Michael Manring has a leading role on his fretless bass guitar, but also the guitar parts by Matias Kupiainen and Petteri Hirvanen are prominent over the atmospheric keyboard sounds. On the second more up-tempo track Yes, This Is It! Strandberg for the first time has a leading role on his five-string bass guitar. Sometimes slapping and sometimes pulling the strings in a funky way. Risto Salmi and Matias Kupiainen get some room to shine as well on the saxophone and the electric guitar.
Let's continue with It's A Journey on which Manring again plays the fretless bass in a kind of solo spot. This mellow piece is interlarded with fine piano and saxophone parts. Past And Present is a great up-tempo tune in which the sax, the electric guitar and the bass are dominant. This track, containing fantastic jazz-rock and fusion, could have been recorded by Progression or Paidarion. T.M And T.M. is mellower with fine playing on the piano and the string synthesizer. Next is Traveller's Tales which is a rather tranquil piece as well having a leading role for Michael Manring on the fretless bass mainly accompanied by Kimmo Tapanainen on keyboards.
On Two Sisters the music accelerates and the three bass players show their talents: Jan-Olaf Strandberg plays the flamenco bass, Jan 'Jysky' Strandberg is slapping while Mr. Manring pulls the strings on the fretless bass. The Magician's Departure is another beautiful mellow piece performed on the acoustic piano with some fine saxophone playing and with Jan-Olaf playing the fretless bass guitar. The final track The Truth with Michael Manring on the fretless bass is again a mellow piece dominated by the piano and the saxophone. After listening to the CD, containing fine music that can be described as a mixture of progressive rock, jazz-rock and fusion, the jewel case held another surprise in store!
This synthetic little box also contains a bonus-DVD including eighty minutes of footage. First you can watch Tom's Nurses, Dominique and Undercover performed by the complete band at a rehearsal room. You can also enjoy three solos performed on the four-, five- and six-string bass guitar. Some footage shot during a live performance can be seen as well. In addition you can watch an extensive interview with Jan-Olof Strandberg by Paul Jackson lasting about forty minutes. This bonus disc is a nice extra, but once you have seen it you no longer have the urge to see it again.
This release once again proves that Jan-Olof Strandberg belongs to the top of the international bass players, but he also proves to be a great composer. Made In Finland was made in Finland, but could have been recorded in any other country because of the international quality level. Not surprising that many musicians love to work with Strandberg. Well, give this album a try and you know why!
***+ Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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