Saxophonist Linda Fredriksson became known outside the Finnish jazz community as member of the bold and exciting trio Mopo, but the success their solo debut Juniper that topped the Finnish physical album charts in the spring of 2022 made them one of the best known currently active Finnish jazz musicians outside of jazz circles. Fredriksson is a versatile saxophonist equally at home in free small combo contexts, as a versatile composer or as a powerful big band or large ensemble soloist. Here is a five album summary of key albums from Fredriksson's discography.
Jee!, the debut album of Mopo (Fredriksson with Eero Tikkanen on bass and Eeti Nieminen on drums) grabs the listeners attention from the start. The 89-second opener Mokkula is a cheerful explosion of sound followed by the energetically bouncy Metsärukkanen. These kinds of cheerful and even anarchistic romps were for many the defining sound of Mopo, but ultimately the bands greatest strength was their versatility and all the key aspects are on display on the debut - Jäähyväislaulu and Kaukokaipuu present the tenderness while Liskojen yö, Vesiklosetti and Totaali introduce darker and even menacing tones.
As a whole Jee! feels like a diamond in the rough. The contrasts come quick and heavy and Jee! may lose the casual listener with it's twists and turns, but looking back at it 10 years later it's also chock full of ideas and raw material that the musicians went on to refine.
The anarchistic creativity and open-minded approach to music making are maybe best presented on the sophomore release Beibe. There are several fun "hit songs": Beibe, Supersankarit and Future 100, pure emotion in Luonto kutsuu and Hermannin herkku and surprises and innovative music-making in Ei, se ei ole hattu, minä vain ajattelen and Hevi Metal. All the same key aspects found on the debut are again present, but presented in a more refined form with years of experience operating as a trio making the album more cohesive.
Superposition quartet are Fredriksson, saxophonist Adele Sauros, bassist Mikael Saastamoinen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori. The group was originally billed as Olavi Louhivuori Superposition!, but by the time of the debut album on We Jazz Records the name had shortened to Superposition which is appropriate as the quartet's music draws strongly from interaction and is more than the sum of it's parts.
Similarly to Mopo, Superposition combines free jazz aesthetic and spirit to more controlled composed sections. In the Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry vein, jazz quartets without a harmony instrument typically take advantage of the freedon in soloing and composing and Superposition has this free side to them, but Fredriksson and Sauros also play a lot of tight harmony lines showcasing the compositions.
How Fredriksson combines the wild and free with the delicate and emotional is a common thread that runs through all the albums in this showcase. Even though Frediksson is here joined by another sax soloist, somehow on Superposition this contrast is best on display.
Fredriksson had over 50 recording credits before they decided it was time to record their own debut. The core line-up of Juniper is similar to Superposition - here we also have Mikael Saastamoinen on bass and Olavi Louhivuori on drums who are now joined by the keys of Tuomo Prättälä - but the concept is fundamentally different. Where jazz albums typical aim to capture the groups sound as it is live, Juniper is clearly produced more in a singer-songwriter style with each track having it's own sound.
This more studio-oriented production does not take away ths spotlight from the instrumentalism, it rather makes Juniper feel more personal and humane. In the 2020's, jazz musicians are increasingly not just instrumentalists, but more and more often active participants in the studio. In modern jazz it's getting more common that the recorded album and live performance of the same material can be very different experiences even if it is the same group performing the same written material. This is also true with Juniper, so the material is definitely worthwhile experiencing as a live gig. A chance to do so is still coming at least at We Jazz 2022 in late November in Helsinki.
Throughout their career Fredikrsson has demonstrated also being a strong soloist in larger ensembles, capable of elevating a whold concert with a powerful solo. On recordings you can hear glimpses of this on releases by The Northern Governors, Ricky-Tick Big Band and Njet Njet 9, but so far the best recorded example of Fredriksson as a top tier soloist is the 2022 album Agatha 2 where Fredriksson is the soloist for UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra playing the new compositions of Kerkko Koskinen.
In Finland Koskinen is still a household name as the composer and pianist of Ultra Bra, one of the most popular bands in Finland in the late 1990's, as well as his solo albums and Kerkko Koskinen kollektiivi, but he has slowly also built a pedigree as a jazz composer, now with three releases of large ensemble or big band jazz-flavored music. As a composer, Koskinen hops between genres and styles with agility combining many different elements while keeping the music easily approachable.
Agatha 2 is dramatic, emotional, cinematic and entertaining. You can maybe hear Koskinen's background in how the compositions are short for big band music, mostly in the 4-5 minute range. Fredriksson worked closely with Koskinen when the material was composed and you can hear this on the album in how the solos integrate to the written material seamlessly. There is still room for even adventurous sax playing and extended techniques such as the sound-effect like playing on Notte.