by Ian Mann
January 29, 2013
Tuomarila proved to be a supremely fluent right hand soloist with a strong sense of melody, narrative and dynamics who constructed his often lyrical solos well.
Alexi Tuomarila Trio, Warwick Arts Centre, 27/01/2013.
I first encountered the playing of the Finnish pianist and composer Alexi Tuomarila when he formed part of veteran Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko’s “Nordic” quintet at a live performance at The Edge Arts Centre in Much Wenlock back in November 2009. Also present in that line up was his compatriot, drummer and percussionist Olavi Louhivuori who forms part of Tuomarila’s current trio. Along with the Danish musicians Jakob Bro (guitar) and Anders Christensen (bass) the two Finns appeared on Stanko’s excellent ECM release “Dark Eyes”.
There seems to be something of a buzz about Finnish jazz at the moment and the 2012 London Jazz Festival included a successful Finnish strand featuring both established veterans such as harpist Iro Haarla and saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen alongside rising stars like trumpeter Verneri Pohjola who has released a couple of outstanding recordings for ACT. Among the performers at LJF was Louhivuori’s group “Oddarrang” whose excellent “Cathedral” album is reviewed elsewhere on this site.
I don’t recall Tuomarila being involved at LJF but his stint with Stanko has certainly raised his profile and saw him being invited into the group of Norwegian bassist and composer Mats Eilertsen, the third member of tonight’s trio. Tuomarila made a substantial contribution to the success of Eilertsen’s highly melodic “SkyDive” album (Hubro Records), another recording reviewed elsewhere on this site.
2013 seems destined to be the year that the trio of Tuomarila, Eilertsen and Louhivuori comes to the attention of British audiences. The group has been signed to the increasingly influential Edition record label following Louhivuori’s involvement on pianist, composer and label owner Dave Stapleton’s most recent album “Flight”. A Tuomarila trio album entitled “Seven Hills” is due to be released in 2013 and tonight’s rare UK performance certainly whetted the appetite for that event.
“Seven Hills” will represent Tuomarila’s first outing as a leader in ten years since “02”, actually released in 2003, an accomplished quartet recording featuring saxophonist Nicolas Kummert, bassist Christophe Devisscher (who has subsequently worked in vibraphonist Pascal Schumacher’s band) and drummer Teun Verbruggen. I picked up a copy of this in a bargain bin somewhere subsequent to the Stanko show and it’s a pretty decent début even if one or two of the “fusion” elements towards the end of the album sound a little dated now. I’m expecting something even better on the new Edition recording and on the evidence of tonight’s performance I don’t think I’m going to be disappointed.
Tuomarila studied at the Music Institute in Espoo, Finland before completing his masters in 1999 at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels (hence the Devisscher connection presumably). He still looks remarkably young and boyish (rather like our own Django Bates in that regard) and is an extravagantly gifted pianist. Brad Mehldau writes a glowing endorsement of Tuomarila’s talents in the liner notes for “02” and he is an obvious influence on Tuomarila’s playing. Others for whom the Finnish pianist has expressed an admiration are Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and Bobo Stenson.
The Warwick show offered a fascinating mix of material with originals by Tuomarila and Louhivuori plus imaginative re-workings of jazz standards such as “What Is This Thing Called Love” and an extraordinary interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’ Changin’”. This type of deconstruction may be a Mehldau hallmark - and certainly there were hints of Mehldau, Jarrett and Evans throughout - but in the main the trio reminded me more of Bobo Stenson with their eclectic choice of material and distinct European sensibility.
Tuomarila proved to be a supremely fluent right hand soloist with a strong sense of melody, narrative and dynamics who constructed his often lyrical solos well. His left hand work was consistently absorbing with some interesting, but never heavy handed, rhythmic ideas. His frequent use of rippling arpeggio’s allowed Louhivuori plenty of opportunity to stretch out and express himself. The drummer conjured a fascinating array of sound from his kit as he utilised a broad range of sticks, brushes, mallets and bare hands often deploying a simultaneous combination of these. He was consistently bright, busy, colourful and inventive but never sonically overpowering. However like the Stenson Trio’s Jon Falt his busy, profoundly unorthodox style did sometimes catch the eye too much and detract attention away from the nominal leader. Nonetheless Louhivuori is an extremely talented musician and on the evidence of his efforts here, plus on the aforementioned Oddarrang album, he’s also a significant composer.
Eilertsen is most the senior member of the group, a founder member of the band Food (with trumpeter Arve Henriksen, drummer Thomas Stronen and English saxophonist Iain Ballamy) he is also well known to UK jazz audiences as a member of pianist Tord Gustavesen’s ensemble. Eilertsen is also a respected bandleader in his own right with a series of albums out on the Hubro label. “Sails Set”, due for release in February 2013 re-unites him with Stronen and Dutch pianist Harmen Fraanje. The Tuomarila trio gives Eliertsen plenty of solo space, both with and without the bow and the bassist wasn’t averse to using extended techniques, at one point he appeared to have clothes pegs attached to the strings of his instrument as he bowed eerily below the bridge to the accompaniment of Louhivuori’s equally other worldly cymbal scrapes. At other times he used the body of his bass as an auxiliary percussion instrument on a passage of interactive grooves also involving drums and piano. In the main though Eilertsen proved to be a remarkably fluent and melodic soloist, both pizzicato and arco, and he can be considered one of Europe’s greatest contemporary bassists.
These moments served to punctuate lengthier, more orthodox passages that provided plenty of melody and groove. The original compositions often included a variety of moods and tempos within the course of a single piece and in the second set in particular the group delighted in seguing tunes together; hence the unannounced arrival of the Dylan piece , made all the more delightful for the listener by one of those “can that really be what I think it is?” moments. Louhivuori’s solo drum feature within the same segue featured some astonishingly imaginative use of the bass drum allied to a remarkable sense of narrative and structure and a keenly judged use of space as his cymbal splashes seemed to hang in the air.
A small but appreciative audience tempted the group back for a brief encore and I’m sure that all who witnessed this intriguing performance by this all star Scandinavian trio will be looking forward to the release of “Seven Hills” later in the year. Given Edition’s production values and the consistently high standards of their releases thus far I’m expecting great things from this album. Hopefully it will contain some of the pieces heard tonight plus some as yet undiscovered delights.
Significantly Oddarrang have also signed to Edition are due to release their début for the label (and their third album overall in September 2013). It’s to be hoped that both bands will be visiting the UK again later in the year, perhaps taking in the London Jazz Festival.
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