Pianist, composer, and educator Tuomo Uusitaloborn in Finland and, since 2012, a resident fixture of the New York City jazz sceneoffers up something special in Love Song, his second album as leader. Special, not only because with it Uusitalo has rewritten his name into the ledger of modern jazz in flowing script, but also because he has come more maturely into his own as an improviser. For while we can still count on the virtuosity that distinguished his debut, here Uusitalo tempers that virtuosity in the furnace of life. Joined by newer bandmates Myles Sloniker on bass and Itay Morchi on drums, Uusitalo expands on the trio dynamics of this album's predecessor with the addition of tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott. Pennicott paints with fresh colors on three tracks, including a fluid unraveling of the Rodgers and Hart tune "There's A Small Hotel" and the show-stealing "Benji's Group." The latter is one of four Uusitalo originals featured in the set list, each embodying a facet of his artistic evolution. From the delightful title track to the piano solo "Lullaby," on which the album bids a reflective good night, Uusitalo emotes through sometimes-abstract denouements, by which he humanizes every note. Even the dreamier "Untitled," by far the album's most atmospheric tune, feels prouder of its blemishes than perfections, for the former abide by variations of experience.
Indeed, Uusitalo has always been one to keep things real through his penchant for dissonance and unexpected turns of phrase. He wastes no effort in glossing over potholes, so to speak, thereby allowing full appreciation of the road. The astute listener can be sure, then, that when his right hand is working its lyrical light, his left is touting the shadows trailed by its obstruction. It's a dynamic ardently established in the album's opener, "Pannonica." Uusitalo's take on this classic Thelonious Monk enterprise further boasts the talents of this rhythm section, as Sloniker and Morchi look past the polish of over-interpretation and into the heart of whatever is put in front of them. Whether in the fluent drumming of Jerome Kern's "Long Ago And Far Away" or nimble bassing of the standard "Just In Time," both musicians hop, skip, and jump their way through the changes without ever getting in each other's way. As with Uusitalo's commanding lead in "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square," they balance classic impulses with modern execution.
The end result is a letter to the listener, signed, sealed, and delivered in the name of loveboth for jazz, and those who love it in return.
Pannonica; Long Ago And Far Away; I Keep Going Back To Joe’s; Untitled; Just In
Time; Love Song; There’s A Small Hotel; A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square;
Benji’s Grip; Lullaby.