Life's Blood Ensemble Lords of Outland Actual/Actual Otherworld Ensemble
Itkuja Suite Manala Road to Aacheron The Otherworld Cycle

Crafted by Finnish-American Bay Area saxophonist Rent Romus and award winning Finnish composer Heikki Koskinen, Itkuja Suite pronounced (eet-koo-yaw), is an original ethno-music research project fusing large ensemble jazz, free improvisation, and mythopoetics inspired by the oral traditions and healing practices of the lament from Finland and Finno-Ugric culture.

The tradition of song through lament has served as a form of community expression spanning millennia, invoking processes of healing in profound ways. The Finnish word itkuja literally means crying, but hidden within this translation embodies deeper undercurrents of meaning. Itkuja surpasses the biopic Western acceptance of polar opposites (i.e. happy/sad, good/bad), drawing a more all-encompassing world view of the definition of existence, loss, and change.

Storytelling has a profound effect on Romus’ musical endeavors. The first of many experimental musical theatrical presentations began in the late 1990s, creating a series of works inspired by Edgar Allen Poe, Philip K Dick, and Frank Herbert. After reading multiple versions of the Finnish National Epic, the Kalevala, he discovered that music based on interpretations of his cultural heritage could serve as a path towards a deeper understanding. While on tour with fellow composer.musician Heikki Kosinen in 2019, they visited the Cultural Center in Joensuu Finland to see the lament exhibit. This experience sparked discussions and further research blossoming new musical ideas based on this oral-tradition. This project completes the Otherworld Trilogy which includes the 2015 release of the Otheworld Cycle and the 2020 release of Manala on Edgetone Records.

"This piece is palpably a process of restoration and reparation, how the self is always in conversation with cultural belonging, and how where one comes from is deeply intertwined with identity, ancestral healing, existential survival, and resistance to cultural erasure. Lament is healing; music is medicine." - Elise Mills, White Crate

Life's Blood Ensemble Itkuja Suite photo by Lenny Gonzalez
photo by Lenny Gonzalez

Performing Artists: Rent Romus - composition, alto & soprano saxophones, flutes, kantele, bells;
Heikki "Mike" Koskinen - composition, tenor recorder, E-trumpet, flutes, kantele; Heikki Laitinen - voice;
Joshua Marshall - tenor & soprano saxophones, flute; Erika Oba - flute, piccolo; Ann McChesney-Young - accordion;
Max Judelson - cello; Mark Clifford - vibraphone; Safa Shokrai - double bass; Cory Combs - double bass; Timothy Orr - drums, percussion

an ekphrastic for Helena Tiainen’s cover art "Something Out of Nothing aka The Magician"

Close your eyes as I stand watching,
waiting on your singing kissing
fingers fondle the kantele
all the lines into the breathing
it’s a touching of my telling
a lament that sounds of laughing
tears in torrents salt the rivers
drowning what must be held silent
and the old man could be I am
beaded ring around my wanting
radiating into rhythm
reaching each and every other
wording far beyond my living
far beyond your now’s attention,
let us love it while we see it.

— Jeff Kaliss, May 2023

Research Bibliography (

- Honko, Lauri., Nenola-Kallio, Aili., Leino,Pentti ., Pentikäinen, Juha., Kaivola-Breggenhoj Annikki., Finnish Folkloristics I, The Finnish Literature Society, Helsinki 1974
-Nenola-Kallio, Aili. Studies in Ingrian Laments, Academia Scientiarum Fennica, Helsinki 1982
- Pentikäinen, Juha. Kalevala Mythology Expanded edition, Indiana University Press, United States 1999
Shamanism and Culture, 3rd edition. Jyväskylä 2006
"The Shamanic Drum as Cognitive Map" Mythology and Cosmic Order (ed. Gothoni R., & Pentikäinen, J). Studia Fennica 32. Piesä`maki 1987
- Stepanova, Eila., "The Register of Karelian Lamenters" Registers of Communication (ed. Asif Agha & Frog) Studia Fennica 18. Vantaa 2015; Mythic Elements of Karelian Laments "The Case of syndyzet and spuassuzet"
- Wilce James., “Voice” or “Sound” in Two Contemporary Finnish Healing Modalities" 2011
- Wilce James., “Tradition, Emotion, Healing and the Sacred: Revivalist Lamenting in Finland in Relation to Three Authenticities" 2017
- Kalkun, Andreas., Oras, Janika., Seto Singing Tradition in Siberia: Songs and ‘Non-Songs’ vol 58 2012

Research Video:
- Solo lament by Pirkko Fihlman based trad 5-notes
- Tuomas Rounakari - The healing power of the lament
- Aito Itkijä - Martta Kuikka (2001) Interview in Finnish
- Maari Kallberg - matkajoiku
- KROPU - Karelian short film on lament
- Käärmikkä traditaionl Finno-Ugric music ensemble

Organization Support  
The 2022 release of Itkuja Suite is made possible through the Musical Grant Program, which is administered by InterMusic SF, and supported by the Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and San Francisco Grants for the Arts.
Finnish Heritage Society
The creation of Itkuja Suite is made possible through in-kind residency support from the
Finnish Heritage Society stewards of the Berkeley Finnish Hall in the San Francisco Bay Area
Finlandia Foundation National
The 2022 release of Itkuja Suite is made possible through the Grants for Cultural Projects Program, which is administered by Finlandia Foundation National.