If naming a free jazz group Peace Orchestra (Rauhan Orkesteri in Finnish) seems like a contradiction, it should; free jazz has always reveled in contradiction: the established rules of melody, harmony and rhythm, the jazz tradition and images of the stereotypical jazz player have all been questioned, torn down and then recreated by those working within the free jazz aesthetic.
What's more, the label "free jazz" is nothing more than a broad stylistic umbrella that encompasses a range of approaches, from the sonic onslaught of Peter Brötzmann to the more cerebral structures of Anthony Braxton.
On their debut album, Rauhan Orkesteri thrives on contradiction and finds space for both the sonic onslaught and the cerebral, unleashing music that at times roils frenetically, at others softly rustles but always exudes a spine-tingling tension and a warm spirit of playfulness.
Rauhan Orkesteri hails from Turku, a university city on the southwest coast of Finland. The quartet is the Brothers Tolvi (Antti on reeds and Jaakko on percussion), Tero Kemppainen on bass and Ville Jolanki also on reeds, and their aesthetic is very DIY. Their label, Pohjoisten Kukkaisten Äänet, is run partly by Antti Tolvi; their first release is LP-only and all the art was originally done by hand; their sound is mono and was recorded partly outdoors. All these factors contribute to the music’s warmth, evocative of nature’s free-flowing organics rather than harsh urban squalor.
”Uunituoreet porkkanasämpylämpimät” (Oven-fresh carrot rolls) opens like the forest at night, sounds springing from every direction, some startling and some serene, like a group of small animals conversing in some secret language. Cued by the horns, the quivering dialogue eventually evolves into a ramshackle march, which itself soon dissipates into a dialogue between arco bass and the horns, only to be taken over again by the march, this time louder and more frenetic, as Antti Tolvi and Jolanki twist, bend and break the brittle melody against Jaakko Tolvi’s skittering, multi-faceted percussion attack.
The quartet pits dense passages against more serene spaces. Moments of aching harmony emerge then slip away in a clatter of cymbals or snare burst on “Suklaamuusi.” ”Alkukeittiö tai kevätkääryle” (Soup or springrolls) sneaks up on the listener, as Tolvi and Jolanki suddenly leap, horns stuttering and vocalizing, from the underbrush of ever-shifting percussion.
The epic ”Meren antimet” (Fruit of the Sea) starts out jagged and flailing, then enters more ambient space, as Tolvi and Jolanki blow long, quavering tones on wooden flutes and shimmering, metallic smears on saxophone as Kemppainen saws out wounded responses. The piece does not so much end as it decomposes, each member gasping their last, until only Tolvi is left clanging, crashing, rolling and popping to a final child-like twinkling on the chimes.
Rauhan Orkesteri puts the freedom back in free jazz. Full of brash and unpredictable turns, earth-pounding rhythms, cerebral wanderings, stratospheric cries and distorted shapes, Rauhan Orkesteri keeps the listener tuned to its every twisting, turning moment.
Visit Rauhan Orkesteri on the web.
Personnel: Antti Tolvi: reeds, flutes; Ville Jolanki: reeds, flutes; Tero Kemppainen: bass; Jaakko Tolvi: drums, percussion