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Stolen Moments CD Cover
Image © Proprius Music AB 2002 

(08 Feb 2003) Stolen Moments (Proprius PRCD 2023, 2002) is the latest album by the Finnish group How Many Sisters?. The group consists of three female singers. They were founded in 1982, when the "primus motor" of the trio, Mrs. Anna-Mari Kähärä, formed the initial line-up in Kuopio Senior Music High School while studying there. Their first song was therefore performed more than 20 years ago, and soon after that How Many Sisters members moved to Helsinki to both continue their music studies and to make their debut self-titled album (released in 1985). All the members of the group are very versatile musicians, for example Anna-Mari has studied both classical and pop/jazz music, even in Sibelius Academy, and in addition to composing, arranging and performing music, she is a multi-instrumentalist: violin, piano, voice, accordion, keyboards, and so on!

How Many Sisters? today's line-up is a bit different from the group's early days; Anna-Mari is still the key person, but in 1989 the trio was consisting of Anna-Mari, Mrs. Pirjo Aittomäki(-Rantanen) and Mrs. Mervi Hiltunen(-Multamäki). The group intended to make their second album already quite a while back, but for various and numerous reasons the work was put on hold. During the 1990's all three ladies have been pregnant every now and then, they have been involved in singing background vocals for various Finnish artists both live and for records (more or less together or separately), then came Anna-Mari's own jazz-pop-world-crossover group ZetaBoo which has been touring in Finland and made two albums so far.

From the late 1990's onwards up until today, all three singers of HMS have been singing vocals for the world-renowned cross-over musical "project" called Adiemus by Karl Jenkins, appearing on both albums Adiemus III Dances of Time (Mervi & Anna-Mari) and Adiemus Live (all three) as well as singing together with Miriam Stockley in live concerts from UK and Helsinki to Tokyo. So, it's no wonder at all that the recordings of this HMS album has spanned from as early as 1996 to October 2002, just a couple of months before this last release! The name of the group, "How Many Sisters?", pays tribute to "Harmony Sisters," a Finnish female singer trio of 1930s/1940s, which sang quite similarly to this follow-up group. In addition, both group names are even quite similarly pronounced!

Categorising the group's current album is not very easy but some will clearly recognise their jazz roots. Nor necessary at all, since as the singers themselves have written to the album booklet: "One must be prepared to accept many different views to our music." The "creative break" that happened to the group has been successfully able to open up whole new musical worlds and aspects for the singers, giving them ideas to improvise, fuse even more musical styles together uniquely, make interesting compositions and arrangements, and so on. All this ends up to perfect, versatile, but not at all "ear-disturbing" music.

Anna-Mari Kähärä has recently gained even more recognition in Finland, by winning almost consecutively two art awards. In November 2002 the Finnish Jazz Association awarded her with the "Yrjö" prize, "The National Jazz Musician of the Year" title, and just a bit later Anna-Mari was one of the very honoured receivers of annual "Art Finland" prize (given to groups and/or individuals who have recently been successful within the fields on performing arts, including music and theatre). Indeed, very well done for a woman, since a female artist is still relatively unrecognised and awarded like this!

Now back to Stolen Moments. The newly released album of HMS is versatile. In addition to the How Many Sisters singers, the album features two orchestras, the Finnish UMO Jazz Orchestra with its 18 musicians, and a smaller ensemble "Kirmo Lintinen Trio". What makes the line-up interesting here is, that all the musicians except the singers are male, but this really doesn't affect to the listening experience nor the professionality of a musician at all. In fact, every single one of the musicians, both female and male, show really their abilities in music by putting their souls entirely to music--and, that professionality can be heard from the album!

Stolen Moments contains mostly quite "classical" songs from jazz/musical/theatre world, but in addition it also contains original music by Anna-Mari Kähärä herself. Not forgetting Finnish music, French chanson nor schlager-type music. Both the orchestra and the smaller ensemble musicians and the singers have been arranging the music for the album, and the results form a very seamless and ear-friendly musical tapestry of sounds. Not meaning that the album would be "flat" and too homogenic, but rather a happy, colourful and "positive" patchwork quilt. The listener easily can pick up one favourite, maybe two, then a bit later another, then more--ending up to pronounce the entire album as a favourite! This was also what happened in my case.

Indeed the album contains music for every taste, for example "I'll Take Romance" (Oakland/Hammerstein II), "It's Only A Paper Moon," "Cheek to Cheek" (Irving Berlin), "In A Sentimental Mood" (by Duke Ellington), "They Can't Take That Away From Me" (Gershwin), "A Night in Tunisia" (Dizzy Gillespie), "Speak Low" (Kurt Weill), and "Les Feuilles Mortes" (known also as "Autumn Leaves" by Kosma). Well-known and familiar pieces for most of us, but these new HMS treatments really are outstanding and give some more aspects to already existing songs.

A special mention should be made of two particular tracks. "A Night in Tunisia" is the most humorous song on the album, featuring the singers as "The Jazz Squirrels." They are singing the song in a "chipmunk style", and as the lyrics of the song (sung mostly in Finnish though) form quite an absurd love song, the "squirrels" really are "the icing on the cake." Whereas, an a cappella multi-layered song "New Every Morning" easily causes goose pimples for the listener, for the harmonics are just so beautifully done. And, because the album contains stylistically so many different songs, even the Adiemus composer Karl Jenkins would be proud of the album after hearing it since he has also been influenced by various musical styles during his professional music life, including even one of this album's styles, jazz.

As a whole, the versatility of Stolen Moments as an album and the professionality of the musicians involved make this album worth for having, even if you don't like jazz so much. Certainly it would be a pity if How Many Sisters' albums would remain released only in Finland, because this kind of style could be very interesting to be presented to world-wide audience, too! Of course the audience have perhaps heard their Weill's or Berlin's, but these versions are giving something new and exciting to the listener. The women are having very hectic days with their other musical projects, so gigs are very few and only in Finland so far. But, if you are very lucky to visit Finland some day, even Stolen Moments makes it worth for purchasing as a musical souvenir. And, if you are even luckier, you might also see the group performing their outstanding music live somewhere. Only time will tell the future of this group, but this album is really stunning!--Suvi Kaikkonen

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