As this year comes to it's last month, it's a good time to look back on this year's jazz releases and revisit old favorites or check out ones you missed at release. Here are five picks of Finnish jazz releases from the first half of 2022 that are still available in the store.
At the turn of the century a new era was beginning for Finnish jazz with an emerging generation of telanted musicians. One of the key groups of the early 20th century was Ilmiliekki Quartet that introduced jazz audiences to trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, pianist Tuomo Prättälä, bassist Antti Lötjönen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori who have gone to be some of the most influential musicians in the Finnish jazz scene in the 2000's both together as Ilmiliekki as well as with other groups
In 2022 Ilmiliekki has released two albums, this eponymous instrumental album as well as a brand new Christmas album Joulu, joulu, jul with singer Emma Salokoski.
Ilmiliekki Quartet -album shows the groups best qualities in full force. Free and abstract expression often meets a strong sense of melody in the groups music. This is true also on this album with a rich palette of different moods from tender to menacing.
Every one of Ilmiliekki Quartet's instrumental albums has an interpretation of a pop song. On this album it's less obvious to international audiences as the group interpret's Finnish dream pop duo Karina's song Aila.
Note also that Ilmiliekki Quartet's two first CD's that are not available on streaming services are still available at Digelius. Essential early 2000's Finnish jazz on the TUM Records label!
Joona Toivanen Trio has been around even longer than Ilmiliekki Quartet. The trio was formed in 1997 by then teenagers Joona Toivanen on piano, Tapani Toivanen on bass and here also Olavi Louhivuori on drums. The trios music is modern post-minimalist piano trio music that uses widely the sonic capabilities of all the instruments. Even though the three musicians have scattered geographically with Joona living in Sweden, Tapani in Denmark and Olavi in Finland, they've maintained a unifying bond in their music with delicate interaction and seamless communication that comes through beautifyully on Both Only.
The album was conceived in a four day studio session with no music prepared beforehand. The end result is an album with a delicate sonic palette that maintains an aura of spontaneity and discovery. It requires the listener's full attention to truly appreciate, but rewards the patient listener with exquisite beauty. The audio quality of the album is very good making the smallest sounds audible and much of the beaty of the trio's music is in these small details. Beautiful music for quiet moments.
Juhani "Junnu" Aaltonens contributions to the development of Finnish jazz and pop are immeasurable. He is in the top 15 of most recorded Finnish musicians of all time and in the jazz scene he was at the forefront wherever new developments were happening ranging from pioneering work in establishing free jazz in Finland with Edward Vesala to being a founding member of UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra big band.
However, in the 1900's Aaltonen's name was rarely on the front cover of records with only a couple of recordings as a leader. Fortunately this has changed in the 21st century and Aaltonen who will be 87 in December has released some of his strongest records in the 2020's - the latest example is PLOP & Junnu.
The album is a meeting of two generations of Finnish free jazz musicians. PLOP trio - Mikko Innanen on saxophones, Ville Herrala on bass and Joonas Riippa on drums - has been one of the great modern free jazz groups in this country since their founding in 2007 and this album is proof of a lineage and local traditions running deep - it almost sounds like Junnu was always a member. The interplay and dialogue between Innanen's and Aaltonen's solos is a pure pleasure to the ears!
Many consider free jazz to be difficult music, but PLOP demonstrates that the joy creativity is infectious.
Reedsman Max Zenger is definitely one of the musicians to watch right now. i first heard his playing thans to Digelius. I recall seeing an ad in 2012 for an in-store gig for student musician band Filunki (Zenger with Teemu Åkerblom on bass and Aleksi Kinnunen on drums). I wasn't at the gig, but when I was at Digelius record hunting the next time, I spotted their self-published CD that was beaming with youthful energy, so I just had to pick it up. (that CD is still available, by the way)
From those youthful days Zenger has developed both as an instrumentalist, but maybe even more so as a composer and with his groups latest releases, I've been most impressed by his recordings. Maxxxtet plays music that's simultaneously both free and disciplined. Saxophonist Ornette Coleman's legendary sax-trumpet-bass-drums quartet recordings with Don Cherry keep inspiring new generations and listening to Maxxxtet you can't help but think of those recordings as a point of origin, but the music of Zenger, trumpeter Tomi Nikku, bassist Eero Tikkanen and drummer Jonatan Sarikoski is undeniably modern and represents the best the current generation of Finnish jazz musicians offer.
OK:KO quartet became known in Finnish jazz circles when they won the local qualifier for the Young Nordic Jazz Comets contest in 2016 that had before catapulted Ilmiliekki Quartet to international stages some 14 years earlier. They were originally named O. Saastamoisen Kvartetti but rebranded themselves as OK:KO before their first album in 2017. Back then the four musicians - leader Okko Saastamoinen, who composes most of the music, on drums, Jarno Tikka on tenor saxophones, Toomas Keski-Säntti on piano and Mikael Saastamoinen on drums - were still young and relatively unknown but their first album already made a splash. Now in their third album, the musicians have also made names for themselves in other bands and their work together as OK:KO has developed and matured.
Their music has a unique feel. The melodies often have a folk music quality them and offer a strong base for the quartet to build on and while the new album seems to have more of a modern jazz influence to it, they haven't compromised on the quartet's own sound. Particularly impressive is how each track in Liesu has a nice dramatic arc often building to a satisfying climax. OK:KO is without a doubt one of the key new groups of Finnish jazz to emerge in the last five years.
And don't forget Juniper recently featured in the Linda Fredriksson artist showcase!