In Finland, world-class big band jazz is spelled UMO. The country's premier large ensemble, now ably conducted by Kirmo Lintinen, has been defining big band jazz with a Scandinavian accent for more than three decades. The group's latest album, Sauna Palaa!, encompasses seven original compositions by as many Finnish composers (including one by Lintinen) inspired by the works of the nineteenth century Finnish writer Aleksis Kivi and his most famous book, The Seven Brothers.
The album's title, which translates into English as "the sauna is on fire, is perhaps slightly misleading, as the seven charts smolder more often than burn, but that's a subjective appraisal, as one man's brush fire is another's inferno, and less heat may be required to warm the ice-bound Finns than those who reside in a more temperate climate.
Having said that, it should be noted that each of the charts is well-written and marvelously played, and that there are some fireworks along the way, especially in Eero Ojanen's powerful "Kivi Palaa, Eero Koivistoinen's throbbing "Stenvall" and Jarmo Savolainen's boisterous "Kuu Ulvoo." Ensemble passages on every number are expressive and tasteful, soloists (none of whom is named) strong and articulate.
Beyond that, the music is hard to describe, as it blends Finnish folk themes and Scandinavian concepts with contemporary jazz to produce a medley that is sometimes out of the ordinary, at least to my ears, but never less than absorbing. In other words, it may not be Basie, Herman or even Ellington, but it's definitely jazz, with persuasive melodies, harmonies and rhythms, not to mention improvisation of a high order. UMO remains the class of Finnish big bands, and even though Selected Standards remains my favorite album by the orchestra, Sauna Palaa! is impressive in its own way, and has much to offer the more discerning listener.
Otava; Kivi Palaa; Kalvean Immen Tarina; Stenvall; Kuu Ulvoo; Kivelle; Simeoni (73:51).
Kirmo Lintinen: conductor; Jan Kohlin, Timo Paasonen, Mikko Pettinen, Tero Saarti: trumpet;
Pentti Lahti, Olli Ojaj
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