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Donald Feldman
American Record Guide, July 2011

It is atmospheric music—moody and perhaps nautical, most certainly difficult to categorize. It is worthwhile music and bears repeated listening. The Kronos Quartet performs with much energy and camaraderie, as usual.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Stephen Eddins, June 2011

The Kronos Quartet has long been known for collaborating with other musicians and artists on their performances and albums. In Uniko, it is joined by Finnish musicians Kimmo Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen, who both composed the music and are active as performers, Pohjonen on accordion and vocals and Kosminen in processing and programming string and accordion samples. In terms of its aesthetic, this album continues a tradition of integrating technology that goes back as far as John Zorn’s Forbidden Fruit from 1987, and to pieces that evoke deep sadness with the flavor of Eastern European and Near and Middle Eastern traditions dating back to István Márta’s disturbing Doom. A Sigh from 1989. Technology is even more of a presence here than in most of its earlier albums. Kosminen’s manipulations of the samples are present throughout almost all of the tracks, adding a layer of mystery, sometimes melancholy and sometimes sinister, to the acoustic sound of the quartet. In some movements the processed elements take over with a dominating, driving beat. The piece also leaves considerable room for improvisation, and violinist David Harrington in particular is given a chance to shine in the fifth movement, “Kamala.” The music may not have the tight economy of pieces from the Kronos’ earlier albums, but it is mournfully eloquent and always compelling. The quartet, as always, plays with great energy and panache, throwing itself wholeheartedly into the music. Ondine’s sound is clean, well defined, and nicely ambient.

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, April 2011

I love this disc. Now that the world has long since come to terms with the hitherto unimagined fact that some of the most interesting contemporary composers come from Finland (Rautavaara, Sallinen), here is that indefatigable world-beating (literally) string quartet, the Kronos, to play a gorgeous piece of music by Finnish composers/musicians Kimmo Pohjonen (the “Hendrix of the accordion” they call him!) and Samuli Kosminen. It combines accordion, sound effects, vocalists, and the Kronos’ adventurous string quartet virtuosity in a seven-movement work that is part classical minimalist and part World Pop with musical references going in every geographical direction (nothing could be more apt in music from the Kronos). It premiered in America in 2007 and is still so clearly one of a kind that it’s as head-clearing as it is approachable, even lovable.

Ronni Reich, March 2011

“UNIKO” comes from a word loosely connected to the idea of dreams, and the Kronos Quartet’s latest CD achieves a fantastical fusion of musical styles. Composed by the Finnish duo of Pohjonen and Kosminen—with Icelandic producer Valgeir Sigurðsson, best known for his work with Björk—the album is marked by the adventuresome, heightened feeling one might associate with a film or video game score as well as a broad, fascinating sonic palette.

It starts off with a hushed, windy tone that builds to one resembling waves crashing on the shore. Spare, mournful, medieval-sounding string music follows, growing insistent before segueing into a slithering, Balkan-inflected accordion part over pulsing percussion. In this first movement, “Utu,” the music builds to the breaking point and then disappears, with sparse flutterings leading back into a kind of recapitulation.

Throughout the work, music expands, escalates, explodes and dissipates. In “Plasma,” a busily murmuring electronic backdrop underpins sober low strings. It’s all given a kick by what sounds like looping samples of a plucked violin—if the instrument could beatbox, it might be like this. A high-pitched, wailing melody carries the movement to a peak, and when it calms, throat singing is added to the mix.

The tension rises and falls again by the next section, “Särmä,” which features a deep, off-kilter beat evocative of a limping ogre, repeated single pitches used to percussive effect and only a few brief melodic fragments rising to the surface for the first half. Then, a lively shimmying interlude leads into a gently rippling one for plucked strings and whispery accordion.

As the work progresses, continually traversing new terrain but never dispensing altogether with what has already been heard, a sense of order combines with the thrill of discovery that characterizes “UNIKO” from the beginning.

After the crackling that begins “Kalma,” elements of the preceding movements seem to coalesce—stately string chorales, throbbing beats, accordion acrobatics, simple ideas spun out, sped up and overlapped—in a way that’s enjoyably bombastic.

Scratching and babbling noises vie with strong iterations of single pitches in the transitional “Kamala.” Lonely sighing and undulating passages mark the most moving portion of the piece, “Emo.” A lyrical string line, played in basic harmonies with a warm wash of vibrato, grows to almost power ballad levels. Insistent trilling, thumping and circling motives raise the stakes, but “Emo” never loses its heart.

Longer strands of melody and softer timbres make “Avara” a comforting resolution after so much activity. Taken together, the up-and-down shapes of the individual movements are repetitive, but that only adds to the cohesiveness of the complete work.

Premiered in 2004 and performed at the BAM Next Wave Festival in 2007—and far from contained within the classical, world music or pop categories—”UNIKO” highlights the exceptional talent and the courageous, exploratory spirit that makes the Kronos Quartet such an indispensable part of the musical landscape. The album is one of their most compelling recent efforts.

Gapplegate Music Review, March 2011

There are musical works that come along now and then that go beyond what categorical pigeonholing comfortably handles. Such music is all-the-more welcome in the sense that it expands the boundaries of possibility for music as we understand it in the present tense.

Such is most assuredly the case with the new Kronos Quartet offering Uniko (Ondine 1185-2), featuring the music of Kimmo Pohjonin and Samuli Kosminen. First of all, this neither sounds like or is a typical string quartet-chamber music suite (there are seven contrasting movements or segments involved). That is because the quartet is augmented by Pohjonen’s accordion and voice and Kosminen’s string & accordion sampling and electronic manipulation. What you end up with is something that sounds orchestral in texture, though with a quartet component that is central to the music.

Secondly, the music itself. It has some of the drive of rock, a minimalist element that does not rest on repetition so much as it makes use of it in passing as a way to flesh out structural moments (again sometimes in the manner of progressive rock, but also sometimes in the way of the more traditional classical use of ostinato). The variations that appear in parts of the work have a kind of fusionoid thrust meets dance-folk ornateness that gives the listener a new plane on which to hear the music. There are also (as implied above) Northern Euro-vernacular strains very much a part of the music—allusions to dance forms, folk melodies, etc. This is especially apparent in the accordion parts, but generally permeates the entire work on a number of levels. Thirdly there is a deeply resonant sound achieved in the electronic processing of the initial live signal and a sometimes attractively horizontal soundscaping that comes into play—not, though, in a consistently obvious or formulaic sense. That brings us to point four: the music most definitely eschews the formula as standard operating procedure. They throw out the book on what constitutes the expected way to do things today. Pohjonen and Kosminen meld all the various aspects together in ways that in no way sound rote or programmatic.

Finally, then, it is a musical experience that delights with unexpected juxtapositions, invigorates with the excitement and drive of the powerfully virtual ensemble in tutti overdrive, and brings in a wealth of musical content and continually varying sound color.

This is one of the most interesting and unusual bodies of music I’ve heard yet this year. It is like the Kronos Quartet to come up with unexpected syntheses that help define the 21st Century musically. They’ve done it once again, thanks of course to the considerable compositional and arranging talents of Pohjonen and Kosminen. It’s one of Kronos’s very best! That is indeed something.

Susan Scheid
a fool in the forest, March 2011

Pohjonen’s primary instrument is the accordion, wired and electrified so that its sounds can be looped, processed and manipulated at will. Kosminen is a percussionist and sampler, both providing sounds of his own and repurposing the sounds produced by his collaborators. Kronos Quartet commissioned Pohjonen and Salminen to compose and to join in the performance of Uniko. The work premiered in Helsinki in 2004, with subsequent performances in Moscow and Norway and, in 2007, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The newly released recording is produced by Iceland’s Valgeir Sigurðsson, known for his work with Nico Muhly, Sam Amidon, Bjork and more.

Uniko, in seven sections, is a churning, tumbling exercise in tension and release. A pensive opening theme in the quartet is soon joined by Pohjonen’s accordion, stretching and building to a thunderous entry from Kosminen and his drum pads. The storm subsides, a new theme enters, and variations on the process plays out repeatedly, with earlier themes recurring and the focus of attention shifting constantly from quartet to accordion to percussion to massed ensemble sections. While the composers are rooted in Finland and the Baltic, the piece frequently references the longstanding influence throughout Europe of the music of the lands around its two great southern seas, the Black and the Mediterranean. North Africa and the Levant cross-pollinate with Arctic throat singing and northern folk and chamber traditions, producing a heady, thrumming brew before eventually slipping resignedly and satisfyingly back into silence.

Inventive, frequently surprising, exhilarating throughout: this fool recommends Uniko enthusiastically.

Songlines, March 2011

Kimmo Pohjonen is not just one of the world’s finest accordion players, he’s a composer of panoramic vision, a consummate stage performer, producer and innovator. We’ve known all this for a long time but with UNIKO his importance in the contemporary music world is now unquestionable. The seeds were planted for this collaboration with one of the most famous of all string quartets in 2002 when Kronos leader David Harrington heard recordings of Pohjonen and his brilliant sampling and programming partner Samuli Kosminen. Within two years the musicians were performing together and exploring new sounds for accordion and strings, alongside accordion samples and string samples as well as various effects.

Pohjonen and Kosminen describe this seven-movement work as an adventure for performers and listeners. UNIKO stretches out a huge canvas for a wide palette of musical and emotional experiences. The sounds are finely crafted with immaculate detail; the energy is raw and uncompromising, warm and lyrical. Perhaps it’s unfair to single out any particular track, but anyone familiar with Pohjonen’s work to date will fall immediately for ‘Emo’, wherein his trademark depth of sound and harmonies lead so naturally towards the Kronos sound on an aural journey that takes the listener on a rare adventure both poignant and chilling.

Thomas Huizenga
National Public Radio, February 2011

Is there any style of music the Kronos Quartet will not embrace? This time, the globe-trotting group teams up with two Finnish musicians, accordion virtuoso Kimmo Pohjonen and electronics whiz and percussionist Samuli Kosminen. I feel like this music—a Kronos-commissioned seven-movement suite—could be soundtrack for a thriller set during a blizzard in Lapland. The soundscapes build to giant avalanches of strings and electronics, aided by the Finns’ tricked out accordions and sampling. Then poof! We’ve just fallen off the cliff, floating downward in silence.

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