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Ilmiliekki Quartet at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola

Budd Kopman By

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Ilmiliekki Quartet
Northern Lights Jazz Series
Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola
7:30 PM, October 9, 2006

The Ilmiliekki Quartet is a young, exciting group from Finland who are quite serious about creating an individual group sound through their compositions and improvisatory interactions. Soon to come out with a new album on TUM Records, the band mixed new tunes with those from their first album, March of the Alpha Males.

While the quartet is really a cooperative, its stage leader is trumpeter Verneri Pohjola who seemed quite natural in that role. However, the band really speaks with one voice as pianist Tuomo Prattala, bassist Antti Lotjonen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori worked together while each occasionally moved forward to take the spotlight.

Mixing original compositions with reworkings of tunes by Radiohead and Tom Waits, the band places a premium on free improvisation but within a framework that they, as a band, understand from working together for so long. The result sounded rehearsed, in that things seemed to happen in a predetermined order, but what happened within a given "section" was spontaneous. There was no battling between piano and trumpet during the sections when a driving groove was created, but maybe that was first-time-in-New-York nervousness. The rhythm section, anchored by Lotjonen, played with great authority, and I was particularly impressed with Louhivuori's drumming that almost never stopped, moving between the free and a wonderful groove when it was needed.

The members of the quartet, particularly Pohjola and Prattala, are gifted composers whose melodies combined beauty, pathos and that northern cool reserve. They really are romantics that have taken to heart the need to reach an audience by being accessible and yet not talk down to them. There is a classical clarity to the compositions that allowed for much drama, and the audience was enraptured. Indeed, if the set was a bit heavy on the side of the ballad, it is because their melodies are so beautiful and lend themselves to that kind of treatment.

In terms of influences, Tomasz Stanko was in the air, as was, surprisingly, Woody Shaw during the spot when they allowed themselves to take off. Bobo Stenson could also be heard, but also the whole ECM vibe of dramatic, classically influenced jazz from the north.

This is not to mean that the Ilmiliekki Quartet is merely imitative, but that they stand on the shoulders of giants, and can develop what is an obviously deep, sensitive talent, both individually and as a group, in the years ahead.

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