Otherworld Ensemble

Live at Malmitalo
Edgetone Records EDT 4192



Unisono Records No #

Although improvisers from Finland are less celebrated and lesser known than those from other Nordic countries, a scene exists, although, as in the case with many locations, musicians often have to relocate to pursue their careers, especially if their bent is non-mainstream. These CDs, recorded on live dates in Finland both validate the expatriate axiom. At the same time the strength of both sessions is the admixture of ideas from both Finnish-born and non-Finnish players.

Hyvinkää’s Finnish element is supplied by saxophonist Harri Sjöström, now a Berlin resident and probably best-known for his stint in Cecil Taylor’s bands. The expatriate Nordic connection is enhanced with the participation of Danish bassist Adam Pultz Melbye, who has worked with Peter Brötzmann; and Norwegian drummer Dag Magnus Narvesen who has played with Steve Beresford. Pianist Achim Kaufmann, who often plays with Frank Gratkowski, is Move’s only German member, while vibraphonist Emilio Gordoa, who plays with Frank Paul Schubert, is a native of Mexico City. The Otherworld Ensemble is even more North American- oriented. It features Finnish-American saxophonist Rent Romus and multi-instrumentalist Hikki Koskinen, who like Romus is Bay area-based. The local Finnish contingent is multi-horn player Mikko Innanen, who has played with Andrew Cyrille and bassist Teppo Hauta-aho. Not only has the bull fiddler also worked with Taylor, but at one point he and Sjöström were part of the Quintet Moderne with Austrian Paul Lovens and Brits Paul Rutherford and Phil Wachsmann.

Easily fitting the same quintet moderne designation in free-flowing style and implementation, Move members elaborate a single, nearly 40-minute improvisation that’s succinctly suspended among all five. It progressively moves forward, with spaced Cecil-Taylor-like sweeps from Kaufmann and filigree peeps from Sjöström’s soprano or sopranino saxophones, as scattered bass and drum attention gives the exposition a mainstream cast. Just before mid-point and a display of the measured colors and rhythm available from Narvesen’s drum kit, Gordoa finds a zone where metal bar shimmies and motor-driven reverb relax alongside soprano saxophone slurs. This contrapuntal diffidence reaches a climax of light-dark shadings three-quarters of the way through, only to downshift from polyphony into a more pointed direction of a saxophone/vibe narrative, accentuated by drum pumps, cymbal vibrations and spiccato swirls along the double bass strings. Having collectively molded a chromatic distillation of sinewy solipsism characterized by reed snarls and vibe clangor, the five complete the thematic circle by exiting with sweeter though not saccharine wave forms.

With Romus and Innanen also providing percussion and both Romus and Koskinen plucking the traditional Finnish kantele, Hyvinkää’s tracks are infused with mainstream strictures and folkloric echoes during the dozen pieces composed by band members. That means that following one another a tune like “Hämy”, with a wavering theme driven by molded, masculine-sounding low-pitched alto saxophone and completed by a chorus of jolly near-Dixieland tone splatters, brushes up against “Bark” whose centre depends on flutter-tongued and slide-whistle deconstructed reed combinations plus yelping brass tones held together by Hauta-aho’s string plucks.

Textures can be ear-splitting as Koskinen’s electric trumpet notes climb above the piccolo range or resoundingly guttural as when Innanen latches his rooted baritone saxophone puffs to the bassist’s dark sweeps. With buzzing flutters also added to the multiphonic mix, a variety of tonal and temperament strategies are exhibited on the mostly brief tunes, leading to overlapping folds of distinctive musical thoughts. “Malmitalo”, the final track is another contrapuntal elaboration with a smooth alto saxophone tone and open-horn trumpeting joined quickly by baritone snarls to create profoundly rhythmic march time. As the horn players lighten the mood by interpolating quotes and or burlesques of other tunes – could that be “Santa Clause is coming to Town”? – the track and concert wrap up with trumpet yelps and reed burbles that are rhythmic and amusing.

Finnish musical innovators may still have to leave home to fully express themselves. But these discs prove that though-out interactions with fellow sound makers can create superior sessions at home.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Hyvinkää: 1. Hyvinkää

Personnel: Hyvinkää: Harri Sjöström (soprano, sopranino saxophones); Achim Kaufmann (piano); Emilio Gordoa (vibraphone); Adam Pultz Melbye (bass) and Dag Magnus Narvesen (drums)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Maahinen (Gnome) 2. Intersections 3. Summer Night 4. Hämy 5. Bark 6. Lemi 7. Waiting for the Fall 8. Velkutus 9. Ode to the Ceiling Light Buzz 10. Yökyöpelit (Night Owls) 11. HaKo0 12. Malmitalo

Personnel: Live: Heikki Koskinen (tenor recorder, e-trumpet, flutes, piano, kantele); Rent Romus (alto saxophone, kantele, flutes, bells); Mikko Innanen (alto, baritone and sopranino saxophones, flutes, percussion) and Teppo Hauta-aho (bass)