On the surface, the music of Lento
gleams like a highly polished gem. However that surface belies an intensely detailed and sometimes stormy underside. "Lento" means "flight" in Finnish and the Jouni Järvelä Group has indeed created a soaring yet refined balance of fresh rhythms, brittle melodies, harmonic exploration and bizarre sonic colorings. The music floats weightless, as the musicians' exertion sounds almost effortless. Yet as it passes by, one cannot help but further investigate the rich, contrasting textures of the compositions.
The quintet creates an expansive, ambient mood without sacrificing rhythmic muscle or imagination. Pianist Samuli Mikkonen's "Uni", like many of the compositions, features saxophonist Järvelä's extended phrases and thoughtful cultivation of melody. Behind him, the band provides a constantly shifting background. Mikkonen slips unnoticeably between piano and synthesizers as guitarist Jarmo Saari sensitively responds to the entire ensemble. Beneath this misty cover, the bass and drums wander quietly, yet intently.
Lasse Lindgren, on bass, and Marko Timonen, on drums, contribute the forceful, mercurial grooves that are the foundation of Lento. Lindgren anchors every song with angular, precise lines and Timonen just plain astounds. Showing supernatural control, he plays at some furious tempos and precisely articulates intricate rhythms. They play with vigor and freshness, consistently avoiding cliched, tired rhythmic patterns.
Inherent in every composition on Lento is a tension between gentle melodic contours and more abstract, sharp-edged electronic tones. "Dr. Mandolin's Cabinet" treads this fine line between groove and noise. Bass and drums lock in on an insistent beat, as Mikkonen hints at some unheard sonic layer with fragmented synth blasts and tonal wisps. Over this tense foundation, Järvelä blows jagged, almost-moaning-blues phrases.
Järvelä has written most of the material on the album, with Mikkonen also contributing two originals. They present compositions which are fully realized in both mood and structure, not just collections of chord changes to be soloed over. Each soloist fulfills a function by building tension and drama within the pieces. On "Siniperho" Saari rides the cresting waves of harmony, then swells out of the mix to unfurl a searing, high-volume solo. As Järvelä expands the sinister minor melody of "Irvikissa", Saari and Mikkonen unleash a horde of strangled noise over the ominous bass and relentless ride cymbal propulsion. They achieve a stormy balance while maintaining their characteristic center of composed confidence.
On the first listening, this poise manifests itself as an effortless sheen, but furhter exploration yields a compelling wealth of details and ideas. Lento is the product of intense concentration by the Jouni Järvelä Group, and it certainly rewards the same concentration from the listener.