1998 & 1999 have been exceptionally great years for jazz on many fronts and with that, we must bestow some long overdue credit on the thriving Finnish jazz scene! Recent releases by the “UMO Orchestra”, woodwind specialist “Pekka Pylkkanen and the well established “Trio Nueva Finlandia” are but a few of the fine and dare we say adventurous, cutting edge releases emanating out of Finland. Here, the winning streak continues with the new large ensemble release by “Zone” on Soul Note records.
The Zone society is an ongoing jazz-based collective led by a front-line contingency of Finnish jazz musicians as the lineup will vary on occasion due to commitments and so forth, yet here Americans Ron McClure (b) and Jeff Hirshfield (d) round out the rhythm section. Simply stated, First Definition is an extremely impressive recording from this little big band who at times rekindle fond memories of classy Oliver Nelson or Gerald Wilson –West Coast - style arrangements along with a contemporary or modern twist and an added punch! The title track, “First Definitions” gets off the ground with cool yet probing horns with lots of timbre while seamlessly transforming into a driving swing along with breezy background synths and a blazing trumpet solo by Anders Bergcrantz. Here, pianist Seppo Kantonen accentuates the rapid swing with a dashing, articulate solo often displaying Bud Powell-like right hand speed amid swirling chord progressions. “Hitchcock” is playfully eerie which falls in line with the late director’s cinematic style – (assuming the title is some sort of homage to Alfred Hitchcock). Ominous horn arrangements, expert soloing and climactic choruses heighten the intensity, culminated by Jarno Kukkonen’s bright and soaring to the heavens electric guitar solo.
Strong and masterful ensemble work and clever arrangements ensue along with “catchy”, memorable melodies on pieces such as “Aios” and the ballad, titled “Saturday”. The composition, “Hallanvaara” is an excursion into free jazz aided by haunting or mysterious horn arrangements and a near flawless tonal balance as this piece gradually evolves into a motif, which suggests destruction-, a dizzying experience for sure! A dash of that West Coast feel resurfaces on the piece titled, “The Missing Link” while the band mix it up rather nicely on Monk’s “Jackie-ing”. On this piece, drummer Jeff Hirshfield goes full stride with a New Orleans shuffle beat followed by sinewy, fat-toned acoustic bass soloing from the venerable Ron McCLure as this piece gleefully develops into a hybrid New Orleans second line/swing amid Monk-ish overtones. Hirshfield closes out in consummate style with a hip and groovin’ drum solo.
An abundance of razor sharp solos, well-conceived compositions, exciting horn arrangements coupled with a fantastic audio reproduction makes First Definition - a first rate winner! These folks are certainly going places as the “Zone Society” illustrate in exemplary fashion, the wonderful – jazz related – happenings taking place in Europe and Scandinavia. .....A spectacular effort but then again, they’ve been spoiling us for some time now! Highly recommended.... * * * * *
Anders Bergcrantz; Trumpet: Mikael Langbacka; Trombone & Bass Trombone: Jukka Perko; Alto & Soprano Saxophones: Eero Koivistoinen; Tenor & Soprano Saxophone: Pertti Paivinen; Baritone & Soprano Saxophone, Flute: Seppo Kantonen; Piano: Jarmo Kukkonen; Guitar: Jarmo Savolainen; Synths: Ron McClure; Bass: Jeff Hirshfield; Drums: Mongo Aaltonen; Percussion