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Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Music for Ukraine (We Jazz, 2022)

By Jim Marks

This compilation from We Jazz Records is timely both because all of the proceeds go to embattled Ukraine and because the label is located in Finland, a country threatened with the same fate (and, for that reason, currently seeking membership in NATO). These kinds of compilations provide jazz fans the opportunity to engage in some light activism while sampling some new artists and picking up some rare tracks ( Trost Records recently released a similar effort ).

The result is a grab-bag of outtakes, rarities, live recordings, and overlooked recent releases. The recording quality is consistently high, including on the live tracks, which is not always the case with odds and ends like this. Many but not all of the artists are Finnish. While some are fairly well established, such as Jason Nazary and Mikko Innanen, others will probably be new to many readers of the FJB, so Music for Ukraine serves as a good point of departure for exploring the We Jazz catalog. There are 26 tracks here, over two hours of music, so this review can only provide an overview. Overall, the collection holds together nicely, ranging from fairly free jazz (most of the jazz tracks seem improvised) to more rock- and electronic-leaning material.

Opener “Sea Change” by Black Diamond (Chicagoans Hunter Diamond and Artie Black) gets things off to a fine start with a swirl of woody reed instruments and tinkling bells. The mood continues with Superposition’s meditative “Sight and Science,” led by the saxophonists Adele Sauros and Linda Fredriksson, and a pretty song, “Brother II” by Lucia Cadotsch, that is one of the few tracks with vocals.

Saxophone trios are especially well represented here, ranging from the spacious and stately “Maedels” by Tilo Weber, Sebastian Gille, and Thomas Stieger to the peppy “Accidental Calypso” by the Mikko Innanen Trio, which includes Joe Fonda on bass, and other engaging examples led by Timo Lassy and Lukas Traxel. There are also piano trios (Designers, Dark Horse, Joona Toivanen Trio) and a pair of trumpet trios (Bowman Trio, Oaagaada). Another pleasure is an appearance by Ralph Alessi with Terkel Nørgaard’s trio.

Notable among the tracks showing the influence of rock and hip hop are an untitled piece by Koma Saxo, a quintet led by Swedish bassist Peter Eldh ( reviewed in the FJB ), combining samples of sax and flute with a propulsive bass riff and processed percussion, the Stance Brothers’ “Low,” with dreamy guitar adorning a powerful beat, Lampen’s proggy “Kerzen,” and the eerie, string-driven “Equation” by AINON.

Music for Ukraine , then, is an opportunity both to contribute to a worthy cause and to enjoy and discover some great jazz and interesting other music. Apart from the motivation behind the compilation, there is nothing particularly somber or heavy about it. This music deserves to be heard on its own merits, and hats off to We Jazz for making it available.