One of the few things more obscure than Finnish jazz is Finnish cinema, and even more obscure would be Finnish film music. Guitarist Jarmo Saari fuses together these little known elements and creates a surprising and delightful jazz revue of all three. In the process, Saari's Filmtet also highlights the strengths and weaknesses of many contemporary jazz artists. At moments the Filmtet improvises with imagination and flair, but at others they retreat into mere adaptation of the source material.
By referencing the previous sixty years of Finnish cinema, the Filmtet explores a healthy portion of twentieth-century popular music. Saari and his group of Finnish jazz veterans display versatile technique while navigating this wide-range of emotional material with equal amounts of sensitivity and humor. The evergreen "Rilluma-Rei" puts the group through a tense series of tricky orchestrated passages, while they bounce between tango and polka-like rhythms, until they break through into a sublime outro groove. "Lasisydan" has the group swinging and jumping after Ellington, while Pepa Paivinen's clarinet playing drifts into Dolphy territory with a concise solo of angular phrases. Paivinen's tenor sax excursions also drive "Paaskytorni", as he builds aching peaks and valleys behind the loose swing of the rhythm section. The original is a unique psychedelic piece from the late 60s by Otto Donner and the Blues Section, complete with world-weary vocals, and the Filmtet has captured that weary and fragile sound poinangtly. But they manage to extend the song's musical and emotional content with a gentle, refreshing coda that resolves the uneasiness left by Donner's original.
Saari tackles more traditional film scoring on two pieces, and attempts to avoid simple reproduction by combining themes from different movies. "Klaani/Juha" reaches ambitiously, combining composer Anssi Tikanmaki's themes from Mika Kaurismaki's 1984 crime film Klaani (The Clan) and Aki Kaurismaki's 1998 silent film remake of Juha. The group rapidly switches from the stilted rock anthems of "Juha" to the haunting melody of "Klaani", which bears a striking resemblance to Morricone's "The Sicilian Clan". Unfortunately, the result twists and turns like the robotic progressive meanderings of not-so-vintage Jethro Tull. They do insert an inspired fusion improvisation in the middle, complete with fuzz-box Fender Rhodes, that hints at what more this group could accomplish if they cut loose.
With such a diverse collection of musical styles, the album treads dangerously close to becoming a faceless hodgepodge. However, the Filmtet sprinkles delicious tone colors throughout the album, like theremin and vacuum tubes on the fairy tale theme from Lumikuningatar, and Saari's work on the whole album finds and fills the right cracks in the rhythm and melody.
Saari has chosen some untapped musical resources for this album, and that alone makes it noteworthy in a jazz world which too often gives one audio deja-vu. His group executes with an ear for detail and tonal color that brings life to these classic, at least in Finland, movie themes. The music, as well as the movies, deserve a wider audience.
Personnel: Jarmo Saari-guitar,voice, theremin Pepa paivinen-soprano sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, bass clarinet, flutes Seppo Kantonen-keyboards, accordion Hannu Rantanen-acoustic bass Marko Timonen-drums, percussion Petri keskitalo-tuba(3,4,8,9) Olli Haavisto-pedal steel(7,8)