Hailing from Finland but now resident in Brooklyn, New York, Olli Hirvonen won first prize in the 2016 Socar Montreux Jazz Electric Guitar Competition. Significantly, the jury was presided over by John McLaughlin.
"Arps" opens with cascades of Robert Fripp-like quick-fire obligato notes, rapidly ascending and descending the fretboard and instantly hooking the listener. The tentative beginning to "Gravity" belies its complexity, first sounding the very essence of McLaughlin's 4th Dimension but by the guitar break Hirvonen's guitar begins to emulate the allegrissimo glissandi so typical of Allan Holdsworth in full flight. There's also some fine tenor work here from Walter Smith III.
It's not all sound and fury though, as tracks like the intricately subtle "Invisible" attest. From the outset, with its keen memorable guitar-led head, the frenetic-paced "Fundamental" is storming and one of the album's highlights. "N.E.B." benefits from superb ensemble interplay between the horns and guitar and the lengthy "Absolute" is a positive tour de force for trumpeter Adam O'Farrill. So the album is by no means merely a showpiece for Hirvonen. It's very much a team effort, but undoubtedly the guitarist's strong and imaginative compositions are key. Hirvonen himself is something of a stylistic magpie, having the rare ability to play anything from coruscating metal to fluid, bluesy guitar as heard on the lyrical "Lavola."
With the recent untimely passing of guitar maestro Larry Coryell and the venerable McLaughlin currently on a 'farewell' U.S. tour (hopefully not), the World probably is in need of another jazz guitar hero right now. As depicted on the inner liner of New Helsinki, Hirvonen holds an enviable Fender Jazzmaster (a solid indicator that this guy means business), and on the strength of this album he's most definitely a contender for guitar hero status.
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