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Iro Haarla Sextet: Kolibri

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Finnish Pianist-composer Iro Haarla's compositions for her sextet emphasize her aim to reach a different, larger sound than the sound of her Finnish-Norwegian quintet (Northbound and Vespers, both on ECM, 2006 and 2011). This sextet is comprised of top Finnish musicians who collaborated closely with her in the past and began to work as the sextet in 2009. Its three-horn front line sound, as captured on Kolibri (the Finnish word for hummingbird), enables Haarla to use complex arrangements, rhythmic diversity and harmonic interplay that is close to a big band.

But the musicians themselves, all of them leaders and composers in their own right, guarantee the successful realization of Haarla's vision. Their individual voices and creative and assured elaboration of the flowing musical ideas provide this band with its distinct sound, expansive and daring but also contemplative and reserved. They give the seven beautiful compositions (most are inspired by birds and their natural scenes) haunting and expressive performances. Their performances reach for its fundamental emotional core, and as Haarla wished in her liner notes, almost as if challenging the listeners to give more love to each other and to help each other in receiving it.

Haarla's compositions draw lively cinematic impressions of Finnish nature. Beginning with the delicate homage to the nocturnal bird, "Nightjar" (the topic of many songs and poems in the Finnish culture), performed with beautiful, elegant solos by tenor saxophonist Kari Sonny Heinilä and trumpeter Verneri Pohjola. This walk in nature continues with with the dramatic, mufti-layered "Procession" that stresses the harmonic possibilities of the ensemble. The gentle portrayal of the hummingbird on the title piece radiates admiration for this resourceful, small bird. It is characterized through narratives featuring flutist Heinilä, trumpeter Pohjola, trombonist Jari Hongisto and Haarla herself. The following piece, dedicated to the endangered Kermode bear, "Spirit Bear" by its Native American name, sounds like a meditative prayer for the survival of this magnificent animal. Haarla uses the Taiwanese folk instrument chen (similar to the Japanese koto) to add new tonal color to this ritual-prayer.

"Sad But True" reflects a philosophy about life—it is basically sad but our ability to experience its many beauties keep us going. The musical expression of this spiritual perspective emphasizes its aesthetic through a beautiful, haunting ballad. The notion of a constant struggle for survival is kept on "Legend of Cranes," originally commissioned for the UMO Jazz Orchestra. This powerful and dramatic composition highlights the propulsive drumming of Markku Ounaskari. The musical journey is brought to a peaceful conclusion with the majestic "Vesper," dedicated to Haarla's late father who passed away in 1971, and recorded before by her quintet on Vespers. This version solidifies her reflection on life. Sadness and beauty are intertwined, both part of a spectrum of completing feelings.

A musical journey of exquisite and rare beauty.

Track Listing: Nightjar; Procession; Kolibri; Spirit Bear; Sad But True; Legend of Cranes; Vesper.

Personnel: Iro Haarla: piano, chen; Verneri Pohjola: trumpet; Jari Hongisto: trombone; Kari Heinila: tenor saxophone, flute, alto flute; Ulf Krokfors: double bass; Marrkku Ounaskari: drums.

Title: Kolibri | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: TUM Records

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