Finland’s UMO Orchestra looks inward on this album, recorded about four years ago in Helsinki, with ten of its dozen selections and all arrangements by present or former members of the ensemble. There’s a lot of good music on offer, but one must readily concede that it’s an acquired taste. In other words, UMO is emphatically cutting–edge and makes few concessions to the big–band models that have preceded it. Thankfully, those few concessions do include melody, harmony and rhythm (this isn’t “free Jazz,” wherein most musical conventions are abandoned). On the other hand, there are enough melancholy motifs and free–wheeling dissonances to keep the average listener off–balance. None of these compositions is likely to leave one humming its refrain soon after the listening experience. But some of them are lovely in their own way, and some of them swing the way honest Jazz should (try Eero Koivistoinen’s stormy “Cuckoo’s Nest” for an example of the latter). As for the orchestra, there’s no denying its talent. UMO, established in 1975, is home to some of Finland’s leading Jazz musicians and has been deservedly praised by such masters as Dizzy Gillespie, Thad Jones, Gil Evans, Benny Carter and Bob Brookmeyer, among others. Ensemble passages, if not always gladdening to every ear, are sharp and clean, which can be said as well of the soloists who include Koivistoinen (on his own composition, “Equinox”), tenor saxophonist Manuel Dunkel (featured on Kari Heinilä’s “Frozen Petals,” Kari Komppa’s “Aldebaran” and Jukka Linkola’s “Bermuda”), trombonist Markku Veijonsuo (Heinilä’s “Blue in Distance”), soprano Jouni Järvelä (Jarmo Savolainen’s “Life Is a Cobra”), guitarist Jarmo Saari (Kirmo Lintinen’s “Tarkovski”), trumpeter Anders Bergcrantz, pianist Seppo Kantonen and baritone Pertti Päivinen. There are some (unnecessary) background vocals by Bina Nkwazi and Jarma Saari on Miles Davis’ “All Blues” (arranged by Koivistoinen) and “Cobra.” Koivistoinen also arranged John Coltrane’s “Equinox,” whose inclusion should give one an idea of where UMO’s sentiments lie. As we suggested, music for the thinking person whose antenna is receptive to the often wintry Finnish temperament.
Track Listing: Frozen Petals; All Blues; Aldebaran; What Is This?; Bermuda; Blue in Distance; Cuckoo