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Verneri Pohjola: Bullhorn

Ian Patterson By

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Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola has earned his stripes in collaborations with Quintessence, the Ilmiliekki Quartet, UMO—the country's leading big-band—and Black Motor, with whom he recorded the sizzling Rubidium (TUM Records, 2013). It's as a leader, however, with Aurora (ACT Music, 2009)—voted Finish jazz album of the year—and Ancient History (ACT Music, 2012) that he's begun to garner greater international renown.

With those two albums, alongside pianist Aki Rissanen and bassist Antti Lötjönen, Pohjola formed the nucleus of his present quartet. For this, his Edition Records debut, drummer Teppo Makynen replaces Joonas Riippa. And it's a debut of some note. The leader's strong writing and the pronounced collective chemistry at play mark Bullhorn out as a remarkable release. It also makes a persuasive case for this quartet as one of the best to have emerged from Europe in recent years.

From the first notes of the elegant opener 'Another Day' Pohjola's lyricism steers the quartet. His slightly rasping edge, the absence of vibrato and an ability to move almost surreptitiously between serene intimacy and soaring drama are the cornerstones of his sound. There's more than a hint of mid-1960s Miles Davis in his approach, particularly on "Girls of Costa Rica," an infectious number that revolves around a repeating bass ostinato straight out of the Davis locker; guest saxophonist Jussi Kannaste acts as a foil to Pohjola, his measured tenor ruminations following a fiery intervention by the trumpeter.

In the spare architecture and hypnotic rhythms of "He Sleeps, I Keep Watch," Pohjola shows his own mastery of magnifying minimal gestures, hovering tantalizingly as it does between sombre dirge and melodic anthem. Makynen bristles with intent on the title track, which moves between simmering percussive intensity and flowing improvisation; Rissanen and Pohjola share protagonism, their respective solos bookended by another soaring Pohjola melody. The pianist shadows Pohjola on the shuffling ballad "In La Boire," with guest trombonist Ilmari Pohjola lifting the trumpeter briefly before the quartet lands softly again.

Just when you think the blueprint is clear Pohjola conjures a trumpet and sotto voce drum duet on "This One is for You," a floating, slow motion affair of hypnotic allure. A more animated Makynen is the motor behind Pohjola's urgent improvisation on "Nanomachines"; Kannaste's staccato phrasing over Lötjönen's metronomic bass pulse subtly redirects the ensemble without breaking the curiously industrial atmosphere.

Whilst never predictable, the music is most compelling on lyrical quartet numbers such as the blue-toned "Ouroboros" and strongly melodic "Cold Blooded," contrasting tunes that are nevertheless both defined by their sense of space and leisurely individual explorations. Pohjola saves the best for last with "The End is Nigh"; Rissanen's delicate lines and the leader's sympathetic responses are framed by an epic orchestral motif that gains in potency, eventually crowning this stirring tune.

With Bullhorn, Pohjola has crafted a powerful personal statement that consistently champions melody. Rhythmically engaging, lyrical and adventurous to boot, this is already a strong contender for best small ensemble record of the year.

Track Listing: Another Day; Girls of Costa Rica; He Sleeps, I Keep Watch; Bullhorn; In La Borie; This One Is For You; Nanomachines; Ouroboros; Cold Blooded; The End Is Nigh

Personnel: Verneri Pohjola: trumpet; Aki Rissanen: piano; Antti Lötjönen: bass; Teppo Mäkynen: drums; Jussi Kannaste: tenor saxophone; Ilmari Pohjola: trombone; Iida Laine: Cello

Title: Bullhorn | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Edition Records


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