The one thing I love about Progressive Rock in the 1970s is the sheer amount of music created, most of which is still virtually unknown to most of us even to this very day. It seems as though you could really keep discovering amazing obscure music from all over the world made during that decade and never run out of new music to hear for the rest of your life. Take, for example, Pekka Pohjola. This Finnish born musician/composer could have become recognized as one of the all time greats in a parallel universe. In our currently reality, however, he is probably best known to us in the English speaking western world as a member of Mike Oldfield's 1978 touring band. To others he is known as the bass player in the Finnish Prog band Wigwam in the early 70s. For my own interests, it is his work as a solo artist which strikes me as his true claim to fame.
This album was released in the UK under the title B The Magpie. B, I assume, stands for Bialoipokku. This instrumental album probably does recall another vocal-less Prog album that follows the trials and tribulations of a bird. It actually beat Camel's Snow Goose to market by a year and, in my mind, while similar in certain regards is actually far superior to its better known counterpart. You would be surprised to know that this was only Pohjola's second album as a solo artist. The jazzy brass arrangements and jaw dropping bass playing sound like the work of a seasoned pro.
The story, as far as I can tell, follows Bialoipokku the magpie from his birth, through some sort of great battle, to a kind of upbeat post-war conclusion. I really don't know. It's an instrumental album after all. It really doesn't matter. The music is the real charm here. The album opens on an almost melancholy note with some sad piano chords. Pohjola, while later on proving to be an excellent and varied multi-instrumentalist, handles the piano and bass playing on this album. The second track introduces the brass section. The tempo increases as the main theme of the album plays, and my goodness, what a theme it is. Catchy and uplifting. Anyone who is even remotely interested in the fusion of rock and jazz must check this out.
The real instrument-star of the album is Pohjola'a bass guitar. The guy has some real skill in laying down some thick and lush rhythm throughout, driving the album forward. Just listen to the bass under the sax solo on the album's centrepiece track: Bialoipokku's war. It's jazzy. It rocks. The bass steps into the spotlight on The Madness Subsides. Any doubt that this guy is a master bassist just need to check out the places he is able to take the instrument during the solo. Very very impressive stuff.
If there is any flaw in this album, in my mind, it would have to be that it all ends much too soon. Clocking in at just under 37 minutes, I always feel the need to start the album again once it comes to a conclusion. If you're a fan of the aforementioned Snow Goose and you don't have this album, you have a void in your collection that needs to be filled immediately. Harakka Bialoipokku is a charming, catchy and impressive album that really needs to be heard by just about any fan of instrumental Prog Rock.
Sadly, Pekka Pohjola passed away in 2008 at the tragically young age of 56. While he is considered a bit of a legend in some areas of Europe, I don't think the guy got the recognition he deserved here in North America. Thanks to the internet, we all have the ability to right this wrong. Take my word and not only track down this album, but explore the vast and varied solo works of an underrated master.