November 21, 2016
Oh, La Vie!
TUM CD 043
Edgetone Records EDT 4153
Least prominent of the Nordic countries when it comes to improvised music, Finland’s Jazz scene is slowly becoming more noted globally due to collaborations among Finnish and foreign players. However like local fish which loses some of its flavor when exported overseas, the optimum method for appreciating Nordic improv is on site playing by locals.
With variations, these trio sessions, recorded two years apart, but both featuring Teppo Hauta-aho, one of the country’s most accomplish bassists, follow that formula. Illuminatingly as well, both discs feature representatives of a couple of generations of Finnish players. Elder statesman Hauta-aho, 74, who has worked in the bands of pianist Cecil Taylor’s and reedist Anthony Braxton is joined on Kellari Trio by brass and recorder player Hikki “Mike” Koskinen, who now lives in teaches in Sam Francisco, and reedist Mikko Innanen, 37, who has played with drummers Stefan Pasborg and Andrew Cyrille. Also recorded in Helsinki, Hauta-aho’s associates in the Olavi Trio are trombonist Jari Hongisto, 55, who worked with the late drummer Edward Vesala, one of the few other Finnish improvisers besides the bassist recognized internationally; and percussionist Niilo Louhivuori, 34, also a member of trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s quartet.
The Olavi is a 10-year-old aggregation and the Kellari a so-far a one-off, which introduced a local player to a regular cellar session consisting of the long-time, but intermittent duo of the bassist and the visiting trumpeter/trombonist/recorder player. Oddly enough, like separated twins brought up in different locations that independently develop identical habits, there are more similarities than differences between the discs. Neither is overly concerned with extensive statements with the 17 tracks on the Edgetone disc ranging between slightly more than one minute to slightly over four-and-a-half; while the 13 tracks on Oh, La Vie are a couple of minute longer each. Only the title track at nearly 11 minutes could be considered lengthy.
Because of this both CDs come across as laboratory-type situations, especially the cellar-recorded one. As Koskinen moves among electric-trumpet, electric trombone, tenor recorder and percussion; Hauta-aho among bass, cello and percussion; and Innanen expressing himself on alto and baritone saxophones, flutes and percussion, timbral congruence and textural experiments become the order(s) of the day. Starting with a feeling of dark menace engendered on “Slow”, constant changes in pitch, tempo and comprehension coupled with instrumental versatility define the situation. Thus a track such as “Mating Dance”, with its strumming double bass vamp and drum rolls plus overwrought saxophone slurs is less conventionally dance-like than “Water” that follows it. Featuring pastoral recorder puffs and curving cello slices, the latter come across as a tune that would accompany a courtly dance. Than as a change of pace, brittle trumpet shards and staccato bow splatters on “Kellari Fanfare”, the tune next on the disc, are as thick as they are tough. On the other hand, a track such as “Yesterday’s New” is more absorbing since each player in turn contributes a musical color that blends into a multi-hued whole.
But for every tune that exposes sonic gelato, where every tincture is visible and individual, on many others every bray, blurt or slice appear to be placed like random chess pieces on the board, waiting to see if a winning strategy can be intuited. This CD is notable in demonstrating how skilled the participants are in creating individual patterns and strategies. But fewer, longer improvisations would have been welcome.
Oh La Vie has a similar weakness, although perhaps because trombone, double bass and drums is a more common unit than the other, there’s more collective cohesion among Hongisto, Hauta-aho and Louhivuori. “Kalle Killi” and “Forest Walk” are both swing-styled tunes that show off the trombonist’s blustering tone. Moving from canter to meander, the pace is maintained throughout, even as different sound combinations are attempted. In contrast “Hurry Up!” is an essay in low-pitched tones, as plunger trombone blats, booming drum clatters and thick string resonations set the pace, with Hauta-aho’s guitar-like picking joining with brass chortles from Hongisto to create a sympathetic finale.
Like a condominium tower looming over smaller buildings, Oh, La Vie’s almost 11-minute title track gives more scope to the cooperative improvisations. Winnowing smears from the trombonist, bouncing strums from the bassist and equivalent beats from the drummer, all underlined by door-stopper-like twangs and peeping whistles constantly expand the piece until every particle is matched and shaped into a sensible groove.
This disc even sports and distinctive finale in “Kun Ilta Ehtii”, composed and made a hit in the 1940s by two of Finland’s most famous musicians, bandleader Robert von Essen and tango singer Olavi Virta, whose name and music subtly but never overtly influenced this trio. While to foreign ears the tune sounds like a combination of “I’m a Fool to Want You” and “Autumn Leaves” the mercurial aplomb with which the three perform it confirms their skills. Able to package unforeseen noises, measured beats and individual sound variations together, a case for the vitality of contemporary Finnish Jazz is made.
Both CDs add names that must be considered alongside Hauta-aho’s in international Jazz circles. But while the other four have demonstrated their talents with these miniatures, each should consider recording more protracted musical statements.
Track Listing: Oh: 1. Downhill 2. Oh, La Vie! 3. Kalle Killi 4. Shoulder Twist 5. Forest Walk 6. Hustle and Bustle 7. Sideways 8. Chaplin 9. Drum Song 10. Whisperer 11. Hurry Up! 12. Evening Song 13. Kun Ilta Ehtii
Personnel: Oh: Jari Olavi Hongisto (trombone and percussion [not 6 &9]); Teppo Olavi Hauta-aho (bass and percussion [not 9]) and Niilo Olavi Louhivuori [drums and percussion]
Track Listing: Kellari: 1. Slow 2. Let’s Talk 3. Eira 4. Pyry 5. Easy 6. Mating Dance 7. Water 8. Kellari Fanfare 9. Rabbit 10. Summer Night 11. Today’s News 12. Yesterday’s News 13. Apu!/Help 14. Älä 15. Smoked Fish 16. Mosquito 17. Tip Toeing
Personnel: Kellari: Hikki “Mike” Koskinen (electric-trumpet and electric trombone, tenor recorder and percussion); Mikko Innanen (alto and baritone saxophones, flutes and percussion) and Teppo Hauta-aho (bass, cello and percussion)