Pepa P: Saxigon (1997)

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What musical shapes have yet to be explored? Did the New Thing of the '60s contort jazz into all its possible forms, or was it merely formless as many critics have asserted? On Saxigon, Finnish saxophonist Pepa Päivinen and his quartet answer these questions with a thunderous NO. The title of the album, and most importantly the music, suggest a shape of jazz that marshals the raw fury and intense soundings of Coltrane, Ayler, Taylor and their progeny, yet retains a respect for structure, and (gasp!) recognizable, but not obvious, melody and harmony. Playing Edward Vesala's compositions, the quartet unleashes a sound rife with contradictions: urgency and introspection; restlessness and reflection; power and vulnerability; density and space.

Saxigon confounds the listener by hanging on every note and beat as if they were the last, while simultaneously suggesting a myriad of forms. On the opening title track, Paivinen begins with a playful extended intro, tossing out phrases that promise a jaunty blues at one moment, then toying with the idea of a rollick through Birdland. When the rest of the band strikes their first sounds, they evoke the roar of an avalanche crashing and tumbling to the ground. Finally the dust begins to clear, but nothing is resolved. The band seems to desire movement towards something, as Jimi Sumen's distorted scream of a solo builds in intensity, Vesala's rolling thunder drumming hints at powerful storm clouds waiting on the horizon, and at the moment one thinks they are either going to release the tension with a furious explosion or a graceful resolving chord, they do neither-the group falls dead silent. Slowly, Paivinen snakes in and begins another winding journey outwards.

All of the compositions on the album embody this sense of restlessness and reaching, but the band remains in complete control of their dynamics. Iro Haarla's spacious piano intro on "Secret Knowledge" sings us a lullaby, then brushes impressionistically. Päivinen blows glacial, mournful phrases on "Surface of the Well", then heads for the tortured stratosphere explored by Coltrane. On the intro of the same composition Haarla, now on harp, and Sumen gently dialogue until Sumen's razor-edged tone combines with Vesala's ominous bass drum to create a mounting sense of dread. Throughout the album, the band controls their spasms of melody and rhythm. Their control evidences that Vesala was composing with a specific concept in mind- a concept that searched for form while never becoming static.

Saxigon was Vesala's last recording, for he died two years later at the age of 54. Did Vesala sense his life was hanging so precariously on the edge? Unknowable, but Saxigon distills the essence of his Sound and Fury recordings into a small group, leaving behind a rich musical document that sketches out some new shapes for us to survey.

Track Listing: 1.Saxigon 2.Secret Knowledge 3.Almond Snow 4.Surface of the Well 5.Phenomena

Personnel: Pepa P

Record Label: Strawberry Records

Style: Modern Jazz

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