Paula Jaakkola
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Paula Jaakkola

Brooklyn, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2013 | SELF

Brooklyn, New York, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2013
Band Pop Acoustic




"Unintended Consequences at the Crossroads – a review of Paula Jaakkola’s solo project, HOLY"

There comes a point in an artist’s creative life where they must decide on the road they will take to satisfy their creative muse. When you look through history, you can see that it is peppered with creative souls who had a need to communicate their talents in a variety of ways. However, in most cases, although these artists may have shown gifts in multiple disciplines, they were really brought into prominence in one primary field. One can only imagine what may have resulted if Beethovan had not traded in his violin for a piano, or taken up composition. Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Tony Bennett are all known as being amazing painters in addition to their other better known vocation. Leonard Cohen is celebrated as much as a songwriter and entertainer as he is as a poet and sometime novelist. Bob Dylan once famously referred to himself as a “song and dance man”. In Dylan’s example, his creative pursuit took him into a variety of musical identities. In the final chapters of his career now, it is certain that he will be best remembered as the folk influenced songwriter of a generation.

It is not uncommon for a talented young musician to have interests in many different forms of music. As Dizzy Gillespie once said, “There are only two types of music, good and bad.” However, a successful musician, songwriter, or vocalist will generally focus on one genre that becomes their key to the spotlight and its subsequent fame, infamy, fortune, or misfortune. How often have we heard the judges on those ubiquitous talent shows make comments to the contestants like; “You know exactly who you are as an artist”...and how often on those same programs do we see otherwise talented vocalists miss the mark because they didn’t find the right genre for their gifts to really shine. As Frost wrote in his poem, he had to make a choice at the fork in the path through the yellow wood. Talent and creativity always seem to find themselves at a crossroads. Robert Johnson certainly knew of which he sang.

Paula Jaakkola has had a career of dabbling in a variety of musical directions. She has a degree in ethnomusicology, and has studied jazz and composition in Finland and in New York. I first was made aware of her as the member of the folk group, Kaiku. On her career trajectory, Paula has worked with folk groups, world music ensembles, jazz bands, and she has now released her first full solo project. Given her background it would seem logical to expect that Jaakkola would release a project that reflected her folk or jazz roots, but surprisingly, she has created a purely pop project. The album is entitled HOLY, and is not a contemporary Christian music album. It is a mainstream music project that is clearly aimed at the pop music market of North America.

The Helsinki born singer/songwriter returned to the old country from her New York home a couple of springs back. While in Lohja, Finland, a town 35 miles northwest of Helsinki, Paula enlisted the services of some of Finland’s most respected young jazz musicians. With the help of these fine young musicians, Jaakkola created a mature and marketable pop record that will implant itself into your ears after the first listen.

Paula’s vocal abilities are undeniable. Her voice is delicate and pure, like a moist finger against a crystal chalice. She is able to sweep and swoop like a bird in flight with the most complex of melodies and still keep her voice pitch-centered on the lyrics and tone. She is not an Aretha, or Adele-esque style belter, her voice is more in the camp of an Allison Krauss or perhaps Carly Rae Jepson. Her sweet tone is very compelling, particularly on the mid-tempo tracks of the cd when she uses her higher register.

The early Motown records were as much the product of the backing session musicians, (who were really gigging jazz players), interpreting the catchy melodies as they were of the singers and songwriters. Paula Jaakkola had the wisdom to utilize the creative minds of Marzi Nyman and Jaska Lukkarinen, under the direction of multi-instrumentalist and producer, Ape Anttila, on her first solo project. All three of these musicians have established themselves in the Finnish jazz world as top line artists. This formula works very well in building a well balanced and interesting experience for the listener. There is a nice variety of rhythms and arrangements. Paula’s voice is never overtaken by the arrangements or the quirky instrumental hooks that weave in and out of the tracks. For the most part the arrangements work well, with the exception of an inexplicable drum break toward the end of the title track which, although it’s well played, seems odd and out of place.

The project begins with a robotic two step dance groove that would seem at home on an Eiffel 65 or Daft Punk record, and then ends with an ethereal ballad sung in Finnish. The track entitled Flutter-by is so catchy it has been rotating on constant play in my head for a week. It is the type of sweet and happy melody that is akin to skipping through a field of daisies on a summer day in Kaustinen. The song is so upbeat one might be tempted to question Paula’s Finnish roots.

Although HOLY was recorded primarily in Finland with Finnish production and musicians, Paula wrote the album almost entirely in English. Certainly English has been the international language of pop music since the advent of the talking film, clearly a fact that Jaakkola recognizes to speak to the large North American market with her music.

There are no grand statements, or needless posturing on the album. It does not pretend to be anything other than a reflection of Paula’s muse in a pop music format.

Paula’s HOLY album was funded independently via the crowd-sourcing Kickstarter website. Kickstarter is a major tool for emerging business, technology, arts, and music. It helped create the funding for approximately 20,000 creative projects in 2013 via donations and other support from the general public. It is a vote of confidence that Paula was able to generate the support needed for her CD from the grass roots of crowd sourcing. However, if Paula Jaakkola had the backing of the big label machinery, I am sure she would have some hits from this project...but given the fragmented industry, grabbing that pop music brass ring is more difficult than just having a good record. The Carly Rae Jepsons are few and far between these days because the industry has changed so dramatically in the last couple of decades. The big issues of marketing, distribution, and album promotion are indeed daunting for an independently funded artist. Those concerns are totally separate from which side of Dizzy’s categories of music a project will fall when it comes to pop music. A friend of mine who happens to be an amazing jazz pianist recently told me, “I was watching the Grammys the other day, and rather than get upset at the state of the music and the music industry, I suddenly realized that the music industry is no longer about is now simply about mass media entertainment. Once I accepted that, I was able to enjoy the show.” One only needs to witness Beyonce, Katy Perry, or Mylie Cyrus on stage to see the truth in that statement.

The challenge before Paula Jaakkola is no longer the question of whether she can create a competitive pop album, because she has proven that with HOLY. She has been to the crossroads. She has set off on her chosen path in the yellow wood. Her challenges now will be around finding the right management, learning the politics of the music industry machinery, and more importantly for the American pop music market...can she dance in high heels? - New World Finn

"How Holy Our Profane Desires"

In 1978, Joseph Papp produced a play written and staring Gretchen Cryer entitled I’m getting my act together and taking it on the Road. Though the arrangements - by contemporary standards - may sound dated and the concept oddly straightforward, the earnest folk delivery packaged in a more pop-like form did something relatively new: it brought music one heard only in clubs like the Bitter End and threw it into a digestible populist form. Suddenly, audiences who would otherwise be listening to Billboard hits were being exposed to a more confessional brand of music – one with an intimate folk pop edge. While a niche audience would still exist for highly ambitious artists the likes of the poet Chanteuse Regina Spektor, the socially conscious Aimee Mann and the musically complex Imogen Heap, the general public had been cultivated to accept simple reflections on life presented in melodic form.

The playing field for indie music had changed. There were no longer two basic categories of audiences. The idea of a mainstream public and the self-avowed ‘others’ had dissipated. Diverse genres would still exist but you didn’t need to be a ‘hippie’, an ‘outcast’, a protester, an idealized niche group with an agenda or even someone belonging to a specific generation to be listening. Indie covered a range from simple to complex and had become indistinguishable from mainstream in artistry and style. It was now common to hear the same music being listened to by Hipsters being heard in ordinary bars. If a difference did exist, it was simply a difference in record sales and distribution process. As it turned out the idea of there ever having been a ‘general public’ was a romantic notion with which to adorn the lives of overlooked genius. Although the latter still, unfortunately, existed, it was mostly the result of short sighted A&R’s and bad marketing who never brought good music to public attention than the limited taste on the part of the “masses”. The general public had long been ready to embrace unadorned melodic reflections on life even as the notion of there ever having been a ‘general public’ evaporated from our consciousness.

By the early 2000’s as post-grunge began its slow descent and names like Death cab for Cutie and Arcade Fire started receiving media attention, Paula Jaakkola had left Finland and settled in New York. Having earlier studied ethnomusicology while simultaneously training as a singer at the pop Jazz conservatory, Paula enrolled at NY’s New School in order to master vocals and integrate elements of jazz into her repertoire. Meeting up with other Finnish expats, she soon formed a band called Kaiku that – with the help of Jaska Lukarinen, a Jazz drummer who had come to the states by way of the renowned Sibelius Academy – had been asked by 2008 to do a series of gigs in Finland. It was during this tour that she met with Ape Antilla, the renowned jazz bassist and composer who would years later become her producer.

By the time Kaiku broke up three years ago, Paula found herself working as a music teacher in a midtown kindergarten where – in an effort to enhance her student’s experience – she had formed a three piece band whose focus was music for kids from toddlers through age 5. Although emotionally satisfying, the venture did little to fill her lifelong desire to do her own music. And so, over time, what started out as merely a creative foray into self-expression turned into long exchanges with Ape Antilla, ending with the two of them flying back and forth between their respective countries of residence in effort to collaborate on what would eventually turn out to be Holy (Music with Wings), the debut album of Paula Jaakkola.

From ethereal to jaunty to unapologetically brash, Holy is an odyssey through the ever changing landscape of a young woman’s moods. Whether it is the Suzanne Vega-like progressions of Under your Spell, the more troubled melancholic ennui found in the disturbing world of November, or the sheer spirited simplicity of ebullient moments marked in songs like In the Light, Paula’s lack of pretension and artifice remains a refreshing constant. By the time Drifter’s sombre reverie invests the space with a more plaintive cry, there is little doubt that we have journeyed from joy and aspiration to nostalgia and longing with a host of lyrically unaddressed emotions battling for space between the notes. Mixed by Mason Jar of Brooklyn’s renowned Roots Studio and mastered by mentor Bob Power, Holy is the full profanity of our unstated desires as they wrestle with our most sacred hopes. As Gretchen Cryer once sang “music is my one salvation, singing is my celebration”. The same can clearly be said of Paula. -


Still working on that hot first release.



One of the most exciting moments on Holy (Music With Wings), the outstanding debut album from Paula Jaakkola (POW-luh YOCK-koe-luh), is the very first one; the opening song, "In The Light"; a paean to the clarity that surrounds you when love, hard-won, is new and real. When you press "play," "In The Light" almost knocks the speakers back with joy, leaping to your ears like an impatient, newborn colt. It's as though Jaakkola could barely wait to get the music out of her and into the universe.


Recorded under the watchful hand of producer Ape Anttlla (AH-pay ahn-TEEL-uh), Holy is thirteen superbly crafted and recorded compositions—"Light"; the anthemic title track; the delicate and angelic "Little Girl"; the wistful "Road"; the sing-songy "Flutter-By"; the smoky, blue "November"; and more. “Every song reflects my moods, my emotions, my feelings, and a love for music and melodies", says Paula.


And they present the perfect setting for Jaakkola's expressive and melodious singing: Sometimes fierce and defiant; another moment pleading; yet another, descending into a breathy whisper, and, more often than not, all in the same song. Her crystalline voice is a big reason why legendary producer and engineer Bob Power was eager to master this independent, unknown artist's first work. He describes her as "a pure singer" with "a beautifully transcendent voice, never limited by genre nor convention." That unwillingness—to be bound by expectations—is reflected in her influences, from Joni Mitchell to Sara Bareilles, Carole King to Regina Spektor, Suzanne Vega to Neil Young. It has served the Helsinki-born Jaakkola well, and it's what makes Holy such a rich and sumptuous aural delight.


The ambient climate of Finland has a daunting effect on "the mental space of Finnish people," admits Jaakkola, alluding to the aptly named SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, that tends to plague High Northerners. "They have this…heavy approach to life, sometimes. Music is mostly in a minor key." (She admits that melancholic quality resides in her typically ebullient work, to some degree, also.)


In Finland, Jaakkola attended Pop & Jazz Conservatory in her home town, then got a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology from the University of Helsinki. In 1999, she left Finland to study in the Jazz Vocals program at The New School in New York City, under instructors like bassist Reggie Workman, saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, and the late drummer Chico Hamilton.


She formed bands—SkanDivas, Kaamos, Kaiku—and gigged around NYC, while occasionally performing back home. It was then that she began to imagine the feeling of that eventual solo work, and it perfectly describes Holy: "I wanted the sound to be bright and light, a little bit bouncy, and cheerful, at times. Even if I'm singing about somewhat sad things, it still has that hopeful overtone. Sonically, I really wanted an acoustic sound more than anything."


The final result, Holy, is a truly moving first statement from a gifted singer and instrumentalist. Combining carefully layered musical textures, skillful arrangements, spirited performances, and the transparency of Paula Jaakkola's exquisite voice, it not only bears repeat listening, but demands it.

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