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Sunday, April 28, 2019

Alexi Tuomarila Trio - Sphere (Feat. Verneri Pohjola)(Edition Records, 2019) *****


By Sammy Stein 

Sphere is the 3rd album from Finnish pianist, Alexi Tuomarila and his trio comprising bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori. The trio are joined by guest trumpeter Verneri Pohjola. Alexi Tuomarila has built a reputation as a fine jazz pianist and was described by Jazz Times as ‘...one of the next big deals on jazz piano’.

Alexi has worked with many projects both as leader and sidesman, including ECM with the late great trumpeter Tomas Stanko. Of the album, Alexi says, ‘’For me, Sphere in this context represents the constantly morphing and boiling space, where music is happening ....the musical sphere is constantly changing and evolving, as is the musicians’ personal taste and approach towards music. I don’t think it’s possible to reinvent the piano trio, but it’s certainly possible to be influenced and touched by many different cultures and musical styles, and to integrate what has been learned into one’s music and playing.”

This trio have collaborated for over 15 years and Alexia comments, “We have played together as a trio and also in multiple other contexts, so we have grown into a strong unit. Besides having played so much together, we also all compose and play each other’s songs. So each of us contributes ideas equally to the music.....We all have been working together with Verneri in different combinations, so having Verneri playing and interpreting the songs felt really natural and made a lot of sense. He really was able to bring life to the songs.”

'Shape Shifter' opens the CD and is fast, furious and steeped with energy, piano leading repeated motion-laden riffs, with changes and delicate interpretation of moves by the percussion. The relentless repetition of the theme with subtle additions and changes is allayed by the more dynamic changes in the percussive line and switches in tempo which delivers a sense of fluidity and constant movement. The rapidity of the piano work is impressive, particularly when there is a seamless transition into improvisation, yet the clarity of each note is not lost. The final section builds towards a surprisingly gentle outre. Brilliant.

'Sirius' is gentle, soothing and atmospheric in the beginning with a simple varied 3 note wriffle under which the connective bass line is worked with percussion enhancing the emphasis as the track develops. There is almost a Ludwig influenced feel to the theme, particularly with the single note over the top in the middle section.

On 'Origins' there are some great swing, classic jazz references, tapered with some innovative interactions between bass and drums. Sections chop and change the tempo, increasing the dynamism. 'Jord' begins with creative mayhem, topped by the trumpet of Verneri Pohjola which creates much of the aforesaid mayhem but also adds a defining top line with which the rest of the musicians work. As the track develops the structure around the trumpet solos is multi-layered and intricate, with percussive lines from both drums and piano. The piano-led trio middle section is multi textured and joyful whilst the trumpet enters again to add its voice to the second half, given its own space over the reactionary bass. This track works on so many levels.

'Boekloev' is fluid, with a sense of the traditional jazz trio, enhanced by the guest trumpet and full of intriguing changes, pulling back and letting go whilst ' Krakow' has darker edges and a melancholia to it which works as a contrast and is lost in parts where the trumpet rises and takes breathy flight over the supportive piano and bass. 'Unfold' is beautiful filled with melodies and structured sections which engage. The bass features heavily in the middle section and this is a good thing.

'Celeste' closes the album and is atmospheric and themed strongly with a rolling, sighing bass line over which the piano develops the simple yet mesmeric theme. In the second half the piano lifts and again, the transition into improvised playing whilst still firmly centred around the chord is beautiful and combines a sense of comforting return to the familiar with the unexpected delivery of a true improviser.

What is really impressive is the attention to minutiae which the composition have and how the complete picture is formed by every musician taking on not just their line but adding and enhancing to others on intuition and knowing when to back off or come to the fore. On many tracks there are underlying references to traditional jazz styles and a strong sense of thematic style but the album is also over run with some great free flowing improvisation and interaction between the musicians is tight, strong and maintained throughout. The structures are sound yet within them is freedom and improvisation, centred but also given energy and drive. A great album, delivered with style and panache.

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