Iro Haarla, Eero Koivistoinen, Timo Lassy: A Finnish Jazz Sampler - Part One

Budd Kopman By

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This article is the first of perhaps a dozen that will explore Finnish jazz in its varied styles and storied history. Recordings by the young performers of today as well as those who were present at the scene's inception will be covered, to present a rounded picture of jazz from Finland.

Of particular interest is the TUM label, along with ECM, but there a quite a number of independent releases to be found.

Useful information can also be found at Finnish Music Information Center (FIMIC), Suomi Jazz and FinnJazz.

Iro Haarla

Northbound is pianist/harpist/composer Iro Haarla's ECM debut as a leader, but her connection to Finnish jazz goes back to her musical partnership with her husband, drummer/composer Edward Vesala, and his band Sound & Fury. An integral part of that band's sound, Haarla concentrated on her own career after Vesala died in 1999.

Haarla's music on this release is a paean to nature from the northern point of view, with strongly painted images and emotions. The project fits perfectly into the ECM aesthetic, so involving such well known ECM musicians as saxophonist Trygve Seim, drummer Jon Christensen and the young but impressive trumpeter Mathias Eick feels quite natural. Bassist Uffe Krokfors not only played with Vesala—on Ode To The Death Of Jazz (ECM, 1989)—but had recorded with Haarla previously.

The album has the feel of an extended meditation, since a melodic kernel reappears a number of times. The music floats and soars as the lines of Seim and Eick harmonize, circle and intertwine above the simply moving yet intriguingly colored harmonies supplied by Haarla's piano. Krokfors and Christensen combine perfectly to support the rhythmically rubato flow.

Reviewed at greater length here, Northbound is an entrancing and deeply moving work that is the epitome of this style of Finnish jazz.

Eero Koivistoinen
WolfGang Records

Saxophonist and composer Eero Koivistoinen is in 2008 considered an elder statesman of Finnish jazz, having broken onto the scene with drummer Edward Vesala and bassist Pekka Sarmanto in the mid-1960s playing avant-garde and free jazz. Always a musician of eclectic tastes, Koivistoinen has recorded albums in many styles, whose concert appearance at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York City featured a backing quartet of younger musicians who flattened the audience with very modern post-bop.

X-Ray is a funky, electrically charged, multi-layered affair that refuses to stay in one place stylistically. The album brings in the sounds of African drumming (a recent interest) as well as the electronic sheen of pop, although everything is informed by a strong jazz sensibility.

The title tune is rap-based, which might make some listeners flinch, but the music surrounding the words is so good that it might change some minds. "Straight Up" mixes a deeply funky rhythm with a simple progression that is colored many ways to raise it to the jazz level. "Around The Corner" has an infectious rhythmic drive that moves the bluesy progression and is a lot of fun, while "Last Hope Bar" is a deep, deep bluesy piece that is supremely sexy. The closing track, "Jack D," features a sample of a blazing drum solo by Jack DeJohnette, over which other instruments swirl.

Koivistoinen can do it all, regarding style labels with disdain—considering music to be either "good" or "bad"—and with X-Ray proves he can hang with the kids.

Timo Lassy
The Soul & Jazz Of Timo Lassy
Ricky Tick Records

Timo Lassy is a no nonsense big-tenor who loves to play jazz harking back to golden era of the Blue Note sound of the 1960s. Far from merely copying this style however, Lassy plays inside of it, making every note count and meaning it.

A member of the Five Corners Quintet who wowed the crowd at their own performance at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Lassy has brought together players from different parts of the Finnish scene. Drummer Teppo "Teddy Rok" Makynen (who also produced this record) has been called the "hardest swingin' drummer in showbiz," and for a reason. Pianist and organist Giorgio Kontrofouris (who also played on X-Ray) is almost an honorary Finn, being Greek, but spending half of his time in Finland. Bassist Antti Latjanen is not only a member of The Five Corners Quintet, but also of The Ilmiliekki Quartet, which plays in an entirely different style.

The album has the sound of an LP from the 1960s in much the same way as Chasin' The Jazz Gone By (Ricky-Tick, 2005), which was also produced by Makynen. For many, this sound and feel is what jazz is all about, and while the nostalgia factor will be strong for many, the smiles and goose bumps produced will tell you that Lassy and the band can make a big sound and lay it down with complete honesty and feeling.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Avian Kingdom; Barcarole; With Thanksgiving; Time For Recollection; On The Crest Of A Wave; Waterworn Rocks; Veil Of Mist; Light In The Sadness; A Singing Water Nymph; Yarra, Yarra...; Northbound....

Personnel: Iro Haarla: piano, harp; Trygve Seim: saxophones; Matthias Eick: trumpet; Uffe Krokfors: double bass; Jon Christensen: drums.


Tracks: Northern Dimension; Listen What I Say; Zavala; Commentaries; On The Road; X-Ray; 19; Straight Up; Around The Corner; Chains Off; Mean Meat Blues; Last Hope Bar; Jack D.

Personnel: Eero Kiovistoinen: tenor and soprano saxophone; Seppo Kantonen: piano, keyboards; Georgios Kontrafouris: organ; Teemu Viinikainen: guitar; Timo Hirvonen: bass; Sami Kuoppamaki: drums (1-9,11-13); Jussi Lehtonen: drums (3,5,9,10); Abdissa Assefa: percussion (1-4,7,9); Ismaila Sane: djembe (2,19); Esko Heikkinen: trumpet; Antti Rissanen: trombone; Pepa Paivinen: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Bina Nkwazi: vocals (2); Charles Salter: vocals (4); Hannu Leiden: vocals (12); Redrama: rap (6,11); Maria Hanninen: backing vocals (12); Jonas Verwijnen: sound design (6,11,13).

The Soul & Jazz Of Timo Lassy

Tracks: Early Move; Live At The Timber Yard; The Call; Universal Four; Weldon; Sweet Spot; Love Moan; African Rumble.

Personnel: Timo Lassy: tenor and baritone saxophone, flute; Jukka Eskola: trumpet; Mikko Mustonen: trombone; Georgios Kontrafouris: piano; Antti Latjanen: bass; Tepp Makynen: drums, percussion, vibes.

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