The London Evening Standard (*****)
A Finnish harmonica quartet! They might sound like a novelty act, but Sväng are writing and playing music that’s surprisingly strong on melancholy and pathos.
Of course, there’s also a great sense of humour and enjoyment in the extraordinary sounds that they bring out of an undervalued instrument – although the word harmonica rather undersells the large bass instrument and chromatic models they’ve developed.
They also write some pretty catchy tunes. Like most of the musicians on the inventive Finnish folk scene, the four members of Svang – Jouko Kyhala, Eero Grundstrom, Pasi Leino and Eero Turkka – have come out of Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy. It’s probably safe to say they’re the world’s leading mouth-organ ensemble.
Songlines Magazine #51
“Top of the World”
Chris Moss The idea of a harmonica quartet probably fills most people with shudders anticipating a bad case of Dylanitis. But the opening track of their second album, ‘Haidukka’, begins with haunting strains that hark back to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. Then a riff that would sit happily in a klezmer song takes over as the four mouth organs – bass, chromatic and diatonic are all used – kick off a lively dance. Trains come to mind, though the album title and cover suggest we are on a mad, merry, manic road trip. Most tracks are slow-paced, intricate and meditative – or at least as far as the harmonica squeal allows.
Sväng were founded in 2003 by Jouko Kyhälä, who has a PhD in harmonica from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. His three Scandinavian bandmates are respected mouth-musicians with a talent for, among other things, overbending – blowing or sucking so hard that you get a new sound – and they explore the entire chromatic scale. At times, the envelope is really pushed. The fifth track, ‘Kua Kua Kome Kiki?’ has amazing high notes, and turns around a beautiful rhythm that could be an English folk round or even alt country from the US. It’s weird as hell, and quite brilliant.
A hit at WOMEX 2007, Sväng will thrill fans of experimental and ambient music. This is a wonderfully original album and while my first impulse was to shelve it as one for the purists or oddballs, it has all the appeal of really good pop music at its heart.
Andrew Cronshaw The Finnish harmonica rascals Sväng return with Jarruta, making mighty sound that it might be hard to believe all comes from mouth-organs. The pounding, tuba-punching bass end comes largely from Pasi Leino’s bass harmonica, an instrument that doesn’t usually sound acoustically very bassy except at close range, so Leino’s is fitted with close mics. On top of that is Jouko Kyhälä’s Hohner Harmonetta, a rectangular metal sandwich-like object fitted with a matrix of buttons that operate reed-groups as chords, and the smaller and more familiar diatonic and chromatic harmonicas played by Eero Grundström, Eero Turkka and Kyhälä.
Their material here, largely self-written, draws on the music of the Balkans, Finnish Roma, Finnish fiddling, Lucky Luke comics and Japanese anime soundtracks. Their exploitation to the full of the ability of diatonic and chromatic harmonicas to pitch-bend, with usually more than one instrument doing that at a time, gives a wonderfully greasy, slithering feel to the music.
From keeningly, soaringly melancholic through chuggy cartoon perkiness to a churning, menacing fuzz-harmonica transformation of a Finnish Roma song to wide-screen massiveness, the playing and arrangements are works of brilliance.
So much more than just a smart idea in ironic big suits, this is a unique combo, not just among harmonica band but anywhere.
Read what CD Baby wanted to say after listening the first album “Sväng”:
“Suddenly the harmonica just became the greatest instrument in the history of folk music. This is one of those albums that you just have to hear to grasp- but if you need some encouragement to click on that button, this harmonica band plays high-octane works drawing from Swedish hambo, old-time fiddle music and rags- and even more impressive, zesty traditional Balkan folk with all the virtuosity and embellishment you would hear in a standard ensemble. Absolutely packed with energy, overflowing with zest and fire, this group really means what they play- and with much of the album being original pieces composed by the band members, there is no shortage of innovation. An entertaining kick in the pants for all. ”
cdRoots Scott Stevens (Spin the Globe)
Sväng, the record label says, “is a refreshing and uplifting new phenomenon in the genre of harmonica bands.” Frankly, I was unaware that harmonica bands had earned their own genre, but I’ll leave that point to the experts. The point of this CD is to spread what I can only describe as wonderful and surprising music. The quartet begins with a slightly dissonent rising tone that leads to “Jampparaleele,” a bouncy tune that sounds like an accordion being pulled in four directions at once. Then the tango melancholy of “Kaipaustango” with a completly different tone, grounded by a low, low bass harmonica. Then, when the swing of “Saaren Erakko” kicks in, any last suspicion fades that this is just a novelty band. Playing chromatic, diatonic, harmonetta, and bass harmonicas, Sväng achieves a balance and richness you might not expect. They move seamlessly from originals to traditional Romanian, Finnish, Russian, and Swedish tunes, even the American “Sandy Boys and Hangman’s Reel.” Sväng seems to cultivate a retro aura, from the sepia CD cover to their songwriting. You’ll find no electronic effects here, and the concluding “Svängtime Rag” could be the soundtrack to an old silent comedy. If you’re deadset against reedy music, steer clear. But open-minded listeners and harp fans will find a lot to like in this energetic and emotionally rich album.
Sing Out, Mark D. Moss: “Sväng has shown what delightful possibilities abound when the medium of the harmonica quartet finds itself in sophisticated yet fun-loving hands” Sing Out Vol.50 No 2/2006