The terms "Scandinavian" and "Nordic" (synonyms for the purpose of this review) jazz usually conjure up thoughts of ECM's echoey production, Jan Garbarek's atmospheric sax musings and pastoral landscapes. Yet that definition is rather limited and more than a bit quaint. Finland's Nuijamiehet describes their sound as "Scandinavian", but the music on their Fiasko Records debut forces one to expand their idea of the "Nordic" sound. Sure, they retain the roomy sound and the chilly distance, but they also add groove, humor and gritty, from-the-gut-playing.
Nuijamiehet presents a varied set of compositions, for all members except drummer Mika Kallio contribute originals. Each member has a distinctive personality, in both their playing and writing. Saxophonist Mikko Innanen pens the most playful and rhythmic tunes. His "If I had a Rope..." toys with a tantalizing blues. The players merely sketch a rough outline of the blues, as if they are content to converse back and forth, commenting wryly on the others' ideas. Innanen's baritone sax work here displays command of the instrument's range; deep growls, supple phrases and breathy percussive tones are all part of his ideas. Lindgren and Kallio keep a furious tempo on Innanen's "Loch Lommond", making a wall of roiling rhythm. Instead of trying to keep up, Kalima and Innanen prefer to punctuate with choppy, forceful phrases.
Kalima's compositions give the players angular melodies and quiet dynamics to work with, but do not lack in intensity or groove either. On "Elohopea" the quartet sounds like Chico Hamilton's Quintet with Gabor Szabo, yet looser and more dynamic. Lindgren's bass work provides delicious counterpoint to Innanen's soprano sax. Lindgren again shines on "Kelju Kukko", playing a line of elastic funkiness that recalls Ron Carter's subtle work on "Freedom Jazz Dance". He and Kallio play with such command and touch that their overflowing ideas are not immediately apparent.
The quartet's restrained emotional intensity comes out on Lindgren's delicate ballads, "Jääkristalli" and "Psalm". Innanen and Kalima shape the melodies with quiet force, while Lindgren and Kallio color in the rhythm with the same imagination they use for the more energetic tunes. These compositions are maybe the most stereotypically "Scandinavian" but that does not lessen their sensitive, contemplative impact.
Stylistic pigeonholing is a double-edged sword-convenient for the critic but constraining for the artist-I would posit that Nuijamiehet's "Scandinavian" style is really more of a filter: traditional styles and moods are absorbed, channeled through the players' own backgrounds and then expressed as their own multi-faceted, and exciting, vision.
Personnel: Mikko Innanen, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones
Kalle Kalima, electric and acoustic guitars
Lasse Lindgren, acoustic bass guitar
Mika Kallio, drums