You can hardly discuss the history and evolution of Finnish jazz without talking about saxophonist Eero Koivistoinen. Since the late 60's his career and recordings document developments and styles from the first Finnish jazz LPs and initial international recognition of Finnish jazz music and musicians to modern days and in 2022 at 76 Koivistoinen remains relevant. Many of his older albums have been reissued in recent years making them again available for jazz vinyl fans and this fall he has released both a new quartet album Diversity and a memoir. Here are five albums I chose from his discography to show the evolution and breadth of his music.
Koivistoinen was one of the young musicians at the forefront of a new age when the first Finnish moder jazz LPs were made in the 1960's. Before his early masterpiece Odysseus, Koivistoinen had already gained recognition and released one EP Jappa and the genre-hopping Valtakunta that combined music with modern poetry, but it was really Odysseus that became the early iconic Koivistoinen-album and my personal choice for the best Finnish jazz album of the 1960's with it's acoustic jazz performed by a quintet or a sextet that has stood the test of time.
The album was released by book publisher Otava in it's series of "literary records" and only a small pressing was made. This made Odysseus a very sought-after album for record collectors. Fortunately two reissues have been made in the 2000's by Jazzpuu and Svart Records bringing the LP version within reach of the average jazz vinyl fan again.
In the 60's Koivistoinen also played in some key rock bands of the age and in the 70's fusion, rock and funk elements started to feature heavily on his albums. Maybe the most legendary album of this groovy period of his career is Wahoo! from 1973 that features some of the greatest Finnish jazz-funk tracks of all time.
The album is best known for groovy scorchers like Hot C and 6 Down, but there's more to the album. The hidden gem of the album is Bells that is a beautiful meditative and spiritual track done in the style of drummer Edward Vesala who is one of four drummers and percussionists featured on the album. Bells got some international recognition almost 40 years later when J. Cole sampled it on his chart-topping album Cole World: The Sideline Story on the early 2010's.
In the 80's Finnish jazz culture had developed to a point where young musicians more often got formal education and experience from New York and musicians like Jukkis Uotila and trumpeter Simo Salminen were having some success making a career in the Big Apple and Finnish musicians also started making albums with American musicians.
Koivistoinen did two great albums in New York with local top talent. First one Picture in Three Colors featuring the likes of Jack DeJohnette, Tom Harrell and John Scofield in the band came in 1984 and was follows in 1992 by Altered Things. I particularly like Altered Things. It features a real all-star band with Randy Brecker on trumpet, Conrad Herwig on trombone, Dave Kikoski on piano, Scofield on guitar, Ron McClure on bass and DeJohnette on drums. It is an excellent album to introduce foreign jazz friends to Finnish jazz - I've certainly noticed that the line-up makes the album immediately interesting for jazz aficionados and the content lives up to the expectations. Altered Things is maybe my favorite Finnish jazz album of the 1990's and a strong showing of Koivistoinen's talents as both an instrumentalist and a composer.
I feel like the album wasn't really getting the recognition it deserved in jazz record fan circles, but this year it got a nice boost back to the spotlight with the first ever vinyl release that put it back on many jazz fans' radars.
Another facet of Koivistoinen's career that is often glossed over when jazz record geeks talk about Koivistoinen is his big band music and work with UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra. Koivistoinen was a founding member and played as a regular from UMO's founding in 1975 to 1989 and served as the artistic director from 1996 to 1998 and continued to work regularly with this great institution of Finnish jazz. According to UMO's website, Koivistoinen is still the composer to have contributed the most music to UMO's repertoire, so it felt necessary to include one big band album in this showcase.
A great collection of Koivsistoinen's big band compositions and arrangements is the 2017 release Arctic Blues where UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra performs 18 of his compositions or arrangements. The album was mostly recorded in the studio, but three tracks come from live recordings from UMO Jazz House from 2005.
For the last 10 years, Koivistoinen has lead a quartet of younger musicians featuring pianist Alexi Tuomarila, bassist Jori Huhtala and drummer Jussi Lehtonen. This year's new release Diversity is the third album from the quartet following Hati Hati and Illusion and at least now when it's fresh it feels like the strongest of the three.
The compositions clearly echo some of jazz's greatest names - the title track opens with a very Coltrane-like intro and Coltrane's strong preaching tone is also echoed by Koivistoinen's tenor sax playing. Koivistoinen and Tuomarila play Thelonious Monk's Played Twice which underlines the clear Monk influences of Koivistoinen's original Hear Hear. It feels like in 2022 Koivistoinen's music is in tune with the tradition of jazz more than ever.
At the time of writing Diversity is available on CD, but vinyl fans still have to wait for the LP release. It should be coming in December 2022.