The Eero Koivistoinen Combo
Northern Lights Jazz Series
Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola
New York City, New York
February 18, 2008
Finland is quite proud of their jazz musicians, and the Finnish Consulate sponsors the Northern Lights series of concerts, among others, to bring these musicians into the American jazz consciousness. Past groups have been the Ilmiliekki Quartet and the Five Corners Quintet. On this night, one of the leading lights of Finnish jazz for the past forty years, Eero Koivistoinen, brought his combo made up of players from the next generation.
This was not a pickup group, since all of the players have recorded with him. Guitarist Teemu Viinikainen, pianist Giorgos Kontrafouris and drummer Jussi Lehtonen appear on X- Ray (Silenze, 2006), while Viinikainen and bassist Ville Huolman appear on Lennosta Kii! (Back Stage Alliance, 2007). Koivistoinen is an eclectic musician who played with Edward Vesala in an avant-garde trio in the 60s, studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston in the 70s and served as Artistic Director of the famous UMO Jazz Orchestra from 1996-1998. What we heard on this night was unmistakably mainstream jazz with a stylistic base resting on the hard-bop of Art Blakey, with an undercurrent of Coltrane and perhaps Wayne Shorter.
The last tune "Birdsong," an homage to Charlie Parker possibly named after a Parker-Miles Davis compilation (2004) on Savoy, summoned up familiar sounds associated with the bebop master. However, the music was anything but a retro rehash of forty-year-old American jazz. Instead, it was filtered through a Finnish sensibility with tunes based on Finnish folk songs. A tune's origin was clear when the leader introduced it, but then the arrangement took it into the stratosphere, detaching it from any specifically European ethnic source, at least for the non-Finns in the audience. The blues were never far away, but they were never completely obvious either.
Koivistoinen exhibited a dry, slightly acidic saxophone sound and did not resort to many pyrotechnics. Straightforward and powerful, his solos were economical, thoughtful, and very grounded in the music's rhythm. Because the band is an existing cohesive unit, he could often afford to lay off his instrument, allowing the other players to perform extended solos.
The band was superb, its sound tightly meshed as the faster tunes had the audience swaying and smiling. Individually, Viinikainen, Kontrafouris and Lehtonen took killer solos, but it was the interplay between them that made the music. A solo ended up being much more than a single musician blowing because of the comping and support from the others. Although Huolman's contributions on bass should not be overlooked, he came forward only once, playing a beautiful introduction to the Finnish folksong "Niin kauan mina." His not standing out at other times, however, only meant that his musical contributions fit perfectly with the drums and piano.
The Eero Koivistoinen Combo played a set barely short of perfection, leaving the audience buzzing and needing a reminder to leave because the next set was sold out.