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Music Reviews: Exploring Finnish Jazz with Innkvisitio and Olavi Trio

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The world of Finnish jazz isn’t one that I can boast much familiarity with, at least not yet. There is, of course, a significant community in Finland that dates back to the likes of Edward Vesala, Juhani Aaltonen and pianist Heikki Sarmanto.

TUM Records continues to push jazz into the modern age in Finland. The label opened its doors in May of 2003 and organizes TUMfest in Helsinki. For the most part, TUM’s roster of artists flies in the avant-garde direction with an emphasis on improvisation. There’s a deep respect for tradition to be found in Finnish jazz, but that hasn’t stopped musicians like Mikko Innanen from pushing forward.

In this edition of Moment’s Notice, I’ll explore two new releases from TUM Records. The first finds Innanen playing with Innkvisitio, a new incarnation of the group led by the saxophonist. The second is Triologia, an effort from the Olavi Trio.

finnish jazz

Mikko Innanen & Innkvisitio – Clustrophy

Innanen leads Innkvisitio in an incarnation that spans Europe. The Finnish saxophonist is joined by original members Joonas Riippa (drums) and Seppo Kantonen (keyboards) as well as Swedish saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist and German saxophonist Daniel Erdmann.

Innanen is largely considered one of the leaders of the Nordic jazz scene. He has been a vital part of many collaborations and recently took New York City by storm, leading a new trio with bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Lou Grassi.

With Innkvisitio, it’s the exploration of the wild side that makes it kick. Without question, this brand of skronk and avant-garde playing takes some getting used to. Beneath the “retro-futuristic” façade lies a real beating heart.

So often with this type of stuff, the players get caught up in producing noise and forget to draw it together. Innanen has real feeling behind his playing, though, and commits entirely to pushing the form forward through the use of Indian wood clarinet, percussion, whistles, and an assortment of toy instruments.

Clustrophy really makes it hot when it settles into those hard grooves right after wild, open moments of screwing around. When the funk train pulls into the station on “757,” keys blazing, futuristic effects cooking and soulful vocals gliding through the backdrop, it can be hard to sit still.

Or there’s the almost heavy metal scramble of “The Grey Adler Returns Again,” complete with scorching drumming from Riippa and a scattering of loud effects and synth. The slightly smashed lounge groove of the title track, complete with not-quite-in-unison saxes is also well worth examining.

In the liner notes of Clustrophy, Innanen tells us to “see with our ears.” This advice is particularly fitting accompanying a record that thinks ahead and progresses without losing sight of tradition or of pursuit of the groove. In this regard, Innkvisitio not only sees with their ears; they think with them too.


Olavi Trio – Triologia

Featuring three of Finland’s most in-demand improvisers, Olavi Trio’s Triologia is a veritable clinic of free and open jazz.

The group features Teppo Hauta-aho (bass), Jari Hongsito (trombone), and Olavi Louhivuori (drums) along with special guests like trumpeter Verneri Pohjola and guitarist Kalle Kalima. Saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen sits in on a couple of pieces, too.

Where Innanen’s group filled up space with noise and funky grooves, the Olavi Trio seems more interested in openness and sparseness. Their arrangements are expansive, often just lightly kissed by subtle percussion and bird whistles (“Birds”) or atmospherics (“Biologia”).

Louhivuori, the youngest in the group, is a member of Polish trumpet legend Tomasz Stanko’s quintet and is emerging as a respected member of the European improvising community. His work with Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen and Swiss singer Susanne Abbuehl is also making the rounds.

Along with Olavi Trio’s mastery of space comes a sense of fun, exemplified in tracks like “Hi Bob!” This track barely drifts into range, scampering here and there with freckled percussion and what could be described as hand fart sounds. Yep, welcome to the cheeky side of Finnish jazz.

Running the gamut between the spacious and the silly as the Olavi Trio does require a certain nose for patience. In attempting to put the relative lawlessness of improvising on record, Triologia actually winds up being startlingly interconnected and, yes, even beautiful at times.

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About Jordan Richardson