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Monday, June 25, 2012

Mikko Innanen – Clustrophy (TUM Records, 2011) ***½

By Alfie Cooke

There's something about seeing the word ' synthesizer' on the sleeve of an album that can send shivers of terror through even the toughest jazz warrior. Especially for those of us who have all-too vivid memories of the 1970s and the multiple crimes against music that the instrument achieved... but have no fear, Seppo Kantonen, synth-player in Mikko Innanen's Innkvisitio is here to redress the balance. Kantonen takes his lead from deeper in the history of improvised music, when his instrument was new and the subject of intense scrutiny by Sun Ra. So on the opening track, 'Earth's Second Moon', he travels along those same spaceways that Ra did, avoiding the high-pitched theremin squeal of so many sci-fi movies and laying down a low moan full of dark and foreboding. And while this makes way for sonic clusters reminiscent of the clashing of gongs, clavichord-like runs and ethereal whispers, the horns play on, dancing rhythmic swing.

If the idea of synthesisers in jazz doesn't frighten you away, then this album develops a catalogue of surprises. The band itself is a quintet, but instrumentally at odds with just about every other group of similar size currently working. The three-horn front line employs the entire saxophone family from sopranino down to baritone with Innanen, Fredrik Ljungkvist and Daniel Erdmann doubling on a variety of woodwinds. The rhythm section, a tenuous term because the reedmen do just as much to convey the rhythmic basis through some complex riff-like patterns, consists of Kantonen and drummer Joonas Riipa - who also doubles on pocket trumpet - and any evidence of a division of labour is soon dispelled as the synthesised clouds blur the boundaries of time and Riipa's frenetic drumming under, over and around the other's solos disrupts our understanding of a toe-tapping beat and makes you question whether the angular riffing of the saxophones is a pattern or... what?

This is very cleverly composed music, blending different voices and layering sounds seamlessly so that the high reed floating over a burbling clarinet may actually be Kantonen's synth, or maybe it's the synth burbling. And then it all gives way to a brief piece of Sun Ra swing echoing Eric Dolphy's 'Out There' before falling back into what sounds like a single voice working away in the darkness.

Yes, there are tougher albums out there and there are many that are more overt in the way they grab you by you collar and seize your attention. Clustrophy is much more subtle in the way that it gets you to listen and while at times this seems to involve treading on familiar territory, these are places in the memory that you become happy to revisit - Sun Ra, Dolphy, echoes of the sax section of Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath... The time has come to lay down your arms in the synth-war, surrender to Mikko Innanen and embrace the sound of the Innkvisitio.

Mikko Innanen - alto, soprano and baritone saxophone, whistle, indian wooden clarinet, toy instruments
Fredrik Ljungkvist - sopranino and tenor saxophones, clarinet
Daniel Erdmann - soprano and tenor saxophones, toy clarinet
Seppo Kantonen – synthesizer
Joonas Riippa - drums, percussion, pocket trumpet

© stef