Verneri Pohjola & Black Motor

Rubidium
TUM CD 031

By Ken Waxman

High quality jazz that just happens to be played by Finns, Rubidium illustrates another key development in improvised music: how players from different scenes can come together to create satisfying sounds. Helsinki trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, epitome of the conservatory-trained jazzman, joins forces with the members of decidedly anti-establishment Black Motor – saxophonist Sami Sippola, bassist Ville Rauhala and drummer Simo Laihonen – who from their Tampere home base work as often with alt-rockers as jazzers, and organize DIY grassroots gigs at facilities ranging from primary schools to punk clubs.

All four players also share an abiding interest in a variety of musical traditions: Slavic, Finnish and jazz itself. Consider the non-originals on this nine-track CD: Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Song of India”, Finnish drummer Edward Vesala’s “Kynnyspuulla”, “Sax-O-Phun” composed by American sax popularizer Rudy Wiedoeft and a Russian “Waltz” from the same era, where the horns slurp and slide as if on site at a drunken wedding party.

The four charge into “Sax-O-Phun” as if it’s being played by the Ramones, but led by yakkity-sax man Boots Randolph. As the bassist and drummer syncopate the beat, Pohjola unleashes slippery triplets and Sippola staccato glossolalia. As for the Rimsky-Korsakov melody, neither classical purists nor Tommy Dorsey fans would recognize the band’s take on “Song of India”. Laihonen’s bass drum smacks and Rauhala’s thick pumps toughen the melody which is otherwise deconstructed by the saxophonist’s renal quivers and the trumpeter’s strained chromatic notes.

Sippola soloing on Rauhala “Alma”, the set’s one quasi-ballad with its moderato beat, is a harsh as elsewhere, although Pohjola’s line is more buoyant. As for the trumpeter-penned title tune, despite the composer’s background it attains a high level of dissonance. He contributes breathy, zombie-like snarls and yelps which are mirrored by the saxman’s dense low-pitched snorts, strummed bass lines, plus blunt flams and cymbal echoes from the percussionist. Eventually Laihonen’s backbeat satisfactorily unites the disparate sections.

Revealingly, the quartet simultaneously honors and augments Vesala’s jazz classic. Suspending the exposition between slow and stately and dyspeptic note substation, the bassist’s chromatic modulations keeps the theme intact, while drum ratcheting and bent horn notes diffuse any residual cloying emotions.

Finnish jazz may have a low recognition facto elsewhere, but this date proves that this band can compete with and best among many other international combos.

Tracks: Waltz; Song of India; Vainila; Alma Rubidium; Old Papa´s Blues; Sax-O-Phun; Kynnyspuulla; The Last Janitsar

Personnel: Verneri Pohjola: trumpet; Sami Sippola: tenor and soprano saxophones;

Ville Rauhala: bass; Simo Laihonen: drums