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Various Artists: Music For Ukraine

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Music For Ukraine is a benefit album whose proceeds are intended solely for humanitarian aid in Ukraine. This gargantuan compilation features artists from the roster of Finnish label We Jazz Records. The twenty-six tracks—contemporary jazz for the most part, with the odd foray into modern chamber and electronica-tinged experimentalism—amount to two-and-a-half hours of compelling music. A host of well-known Finnish artists such as Verneri Pohjola, Timo Lassy, Olavi Louhivuori , Mikko Innanen, Aki Rissanen and Kalle Kalima are all featured.

But while We Jazz Records certainly champions Finland's home-grown talent, it is a label of international character. Also giving of their time and music on this compilation are American saxophonist Hunter Diamond, Swiss singer Lucia Cadotsch, English pianist Kit Downes, German drummer Tilo Weber and Swedish pianist John Holmström, amongst others. A veritable United Nations...

The easiest thing for We Jazz Records—and for the artists—would simply have been to harvest compositions from past releases, but fully twenty-two of the contributions are previously unreleased, which bestows collectable value on this Bandcamp release. Only Lampen's darkly brooding alt-rock track "Kerezen," an untitled, pulsating vignette by Koma Saxo, Black Diamond's "Sea Change" and a private, YouTube-only recording by the saxophone, drum and bass trio Tripak, have previously seen the light of day.

Unsurprisingly, the artists collectively represent a very broad sonic palette. Nearly all the tracks are by small ensembles —trios and quartets mostly—with a few notable exceptions, but no two sound alike. Black Diamond—the duo of tenor saxophonist Hunter Diamond and bass clarinetist Artie Black—forges a meditative path on "Sea Change," augmented by gongs, singing bowls and kalimba. Drummer/percussionist Jason Nazary and flautist/saxophonist David Leon create experimental waves on "A Rummed Chop," marrying analog synthesizers with organic textures to arresting effect.

There are four solo performances: on "It's Better If You Don't" Chicago-born-and bred baritone saxophonist Jonah Parzen-Johnson solos majestically over layers of grooving pulses; drummer Teppo Mäkynen—alias The Stance Brothers—cuts a summery slice of lounge jazz on "Low;" laptop/electronic musician Carl Stone's "Chin Go Gae" seduces with wavy Morricone-esque melody, balm-like drone and a gentle pulse. Two vocalists offer contrasting aesthetics: Lucia Cadotsch, gently buoyed by pianist Kit Downes and bassist Ruth Goller casts an introspective spell on "Brother II;" violinist Merimaija Aalto's wordless incantation blends with cello, clarinet and drums on "Equation," an atmospheric piece by contemporary chamber quartet, Ainon.

So where is the jazz? Well, pretty much everything else falls into small ensemble, improvisational territory. Standouts are numerous. Trumpeter Verneri Pohjola leaves his unmistakable signature on llmillekki Quartet's regal "Song in Minor." Saxophonist Mikko Innanen blazes a Sonny Rollins'-esque trail on "Accidental Calypso," his burrowing baritone solo fueled by bassist Joe Fonda and drummer Lou Grassi's lithe rhythms. There is plenty of meat on the bones of Timo Lassy Trio's thirteen-minute epic "Better Together"—the saxophonist, drummer Jaska Lukkarinen and bassist Ville Harrala captured in sparkling form at the Savoy Theatre, Helsinki in late 2021.

There are three other live tracks: "Maedels," recorded at Berlin's A-Trane, features drummer Tilo Weber, tenor saxophonist Sebastian Gille and electric bassist Thomas Steiger in a three-way dialog that simmers teasingly before taking off in heady, improvised release; an untitled piece by Darkhorse, the trio of John Holmström (here on harmonium and piano), bassist Alfreed Lorinius and drummer Marten Magnefors fuses Southern Asian textures with loose-limbed improvisation that grows in purpose and intensity. Yet another trio, that of bassist Lukas Traxel, tenor saxophonist Otis Sandsjö and drummer Moritz Baumgärtner navigates composed and improvised contours with aplomb on "This Room."

Subtlety is the key on Superstition's "Sight and Science," where tenor saxophonist Adele Sauros and alto/baritone saxophonist Linda Fredriksson's beautiful slow dance is deftly framed by bassist Mikael saastamoinen and Olavi Louhivuori 's gossamer brushes. Pianist Aki Rissanen is in fine form on "For Robert Lockwood Jr.," with bassist Joachim Florent injecting swing and second-line pep. The Joona Toivanen Trio has charted a singular path since the mid-1990s; on "Of Profession," pianist Joona Toivanen, bassist Tapani Toivanen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori cast a hypnotic spell built upon interwoven, modulating mantras that will likely appeal to fans of Nik Bärtsch's Ronin.

At the more experimental edges of this compilation, the tongue-twistingly named Perussastamala & Taistokisu deals in dark, ambient sonorities with an array of effects, samples and post-production jiggery pokery. Manzappazcewski's "Of Course My Incredulous Recoiling Was My Problem" delivers free improvisation of abstract persuasion—propelled by Andrew Edman's Fender Rhodes unleashing—not to mention the album's most long-winded title.

By contrast, gentle melodicism infuses "Unite Us All," a moving collaboration between drummer Terkel Noergaard and trumpeter Ralph Alessi. Pianist Soren Gemmer's circular motif, bassist Jesper Thorn's quietly earthy ruminations and Nørgaard's feathery touch on cymbals provide an alluring canvas for Alessi's lyrical yet probing play. Similarly spacious, lyrical qualities color Hot Heros' "Kerran Varhainen Pyhäaamu," with tenor saxophonist Sami Sippola following his muse, cajoled by Ville Rauhala's lowing arco and Janne Tuomi's restless rhythms.

In purely musical terms, Music For Ukraine is hugely satisfying. Not a single track sounds superfluous. And on a compilation of this size, the discovery of hitherto unknown artists of outstanding talent is almost a given. Music For Ukraine is a truly fine showcase for We Jazz Records, but more importantly, it sets an example that other labels might consider emulating. Essential.

Track Listing

Sea Change; Sight and Science; Brother II; Song in Minor; Maedels; Myztong; Untitled; Better Together; For Robert Lockwood Jr.; Forest Hut; It’s Better If You Don’t; Live at Bubblan; Sista Sommardagen; About Bowman’s Sista Sommardagen; Kerzen; Low; A Rummed Chop; Untitled; Of Course My Incredulous Recoiling Was My Problem; Of Profession (Early Sketch); Equation; This Room; Serriterri; Unite Us All; Kerran Varhainen Pyhäaamu; Chin Go Gae.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Hunter Diamond: tenor saxophone, clarinet, gongs, singing bowls, woodblocks, kalimba (1); Artie Black: bass clarinet (1); Adele Sauros: tenor saxophone (2); Linda Fredriksson: alto and baritone saxophones (2); Mikael Saastamoinen: bass (2); Olavi Louhivuori: drums (2, 4, 20); Lucia Cadotsch: vocals (3); Kit Downes: piano (3); Ruth Goller: bass (3); Verneri Pohjola: trumpet (4); Tuomo Prättälä: piano (4); Antti Lötjönen: bass (4); Tilo Weber: drums (5); Sebastian Gille: tenor sax (5); Thomas Stieger: bass (5); Eeti Nieminen: drums (6); Eero Tikkanen: bass (6); Max Zenger: saxophones (6); Mikko Innanen: tenor saxophone (7); Joe Fonda: bass (7); Lou Grassi: drums (7); Timo Lassy: tenor sax (8); Ville Herrala: bass (8); Jaska Lukkarinen: drums (8); Joachim Florent: bass (9); Aki Rissanen: piano (9); Will Guthrie: drums (9); Mikael Saastamoinen: bass, effects, samples (10); Karin Mäkiranta: voice, effects, samples (10); Jonah Parzen-Johnson: baritone saxophone, electronics (11); John Holmström: piano (12); Alfred Lorinius: bass (12); Mårten Magnefors: drums (12); Sami Nummela: drums (13); Tomi Nikku: trumpet (13); Joonas Tuuri: bass (13); Juho Luukkainen: remix, additional production (14); Kalle Kalima: guitar (15); Tatu Rönkkö: drums (15); Teppo Mäkynen: various instruments, production (16); Jason Nazary: drums, percussion, synths, double knot, keyed mosstone, softpop, space drum & microkorg (17); David Leon: flutes (17); Petter Eldh: bass, post- production; (18); Stanley J. Zappa: saxophone (19); Nick Skrowaczewski: percussion (19); Andrew Wedman: Fender Rhodes (19); Joona Toivanen: piano (20); Tapani Toivanen: bass (20); Aino Juutilainen: cello (21); Merimaija Aalto: violin, vocals (21); Milo Linnovaara: clarinet (21); Joonas Leppänen: drums (21); Lukas Traxel: bass (22); Otis Sandsjö: saxophone (22); Moritz Baumgärtner: drums (22);Tuure Tammi: trumpet (23); Sami Pekkola: saxophone (23); Tero Kemppainen: bass (23); Simo Laihonen: drums (23); Terkel Nørgaard: drums (24); Ralph Alessi: trumpet (24); Søren Gemmer: piano (24); Jesper Thorn: bass (24); Sami Sippola: tenor saxophone (25); Ville Rauhala: bass (25); Janne Tuomi: drums (25); Carl Stone: laptop, post-production (26).

Album information

Title: Music For Ukraine | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: We Jazz Records

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