‘Sphere’ is the new album from the Alexi Tuomarila Trio, the third LP the northern European group has made since 2006’s ‘Constellation’. Pianist Alexi’s music is honest and empowering, with its excitement and passion. The trio is here complemented by the accompaniment of Alexi’s fellow Finn, the rising trumpeter Verneri Pohjola on several tracks. There’s just piano from Alexi and no electronics or synths, which in this day and age of highly polished and produced music is somewhat a relief.
The palpable ‘Shapeshifter’ (released early, along with ‘Jord’) opens the album with an immediacy created by unrelenting rhythmic uncertainty. A fierce melody is emphasised by the double bass of Mats Eilertsen. Even in its unstoppable character, dynamics subtly shift to keep the listener on edge and engrossed throughout. Olavi Louhivuori, drummer of the progressive Classical-Jazz ensemble Oddarrang, confidently holds the tempo. Never stepping on the toes of the others, he only develops the composition’s sentiment by making full use of his kit.
‘Jord’ sees the introduction of Verneri Pohjola who solemnly announces this defiant track. The fragile trumpet lines conflict with the often-disorientating drums and piano, and the effect is the emergence of war-like imagery. Beginning as a reflective bugle call, the trumpet later wails in a fit of distress.
The characteristic precision of Alexi returns on ‘Origins’, with a high tempo ostinato before a contradicting period of relaxation, from which the piano deftly intensifies. Finally, the motif returns, and it becomes gloriously intoxicating.
‘Sirius’ is a sorrowful ballad; sparse and delicate, with brushed drums and a mournful arpeggiated piano waltz section. The bass is even more moving, giving a laconic performance as if shouldering the grief. It’s a chance for the trio to show a more emotional side to their playing.
Verneri features again on ‘Boekloev’, the fluttering trumpet, a perfect fit over this Blues number. The range of tones and textures Verneri achieves here is impressive; going from flute-like raspiness to a vibrant cheerfulness.
Alexi’s harmonious playing is the star of the unadorned ‘Unfold’. There’s a resolute repeated chord pattern elevated by a little syncopation which appears intermittently. It provides some much-needed context to the freer sections of improvisation.
‘Krakow’ is unadulterated and unforgiving in its severity. It begins in a processional and regimented fashion, before going into more exploratory spheres where the piano and bass continuously temper the resistant trumpet.
Notable as the only track featuring bowing from Mats, ‘Celeste’ gracefully brings this spirited session to a modest end. ‘Sphere’ is a collaborative effort, with each member contributing compositions. It is a true expression the trio’s artistic flair and a result of the long-standing camaraderie of Mats, Olavi and Alexi. The addition of Verneri, however, is truly welcomed. If you like contemporary European Jazz, you’re going to love this.