Co-led by Finish pianist Alexi Tuomarila and Belgium saxophonist Nicolas Kummert, Drifter is effectively the new name for the Alexi Tuomarila Quartet which was initially formed when the pianist/composer was studying in Belgium. Their first album “Voices of Pohjola” was released on the Brussels label Igloo, leading to what promised to be a major step in signing for Warner with the release of their 2003 album “02”. Then just as the band were on the up, touring and garnering a growing reputation, Warner axed their jazz and classical departments and the band were left with nowhere to go and disbanded. Tuomarila went on to work with Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and in 2013 found a new home at Edition Records, releasing the trio album “Seven Hills”. Edition then suggested the Finn put his quartet back together which one would imagine took little persuasion. Drifter is 3 parts of the original 4-piece, with Tuomarila on piano, Nicolas Kummert on sax and Tuen Verbruggen on drums, with a new bass player, Alex Gilain.
“Flow” features eight original compositions by the quartet, along with a reworking of Sting’s “King of Pain”. The writing and performing throughout this session has a very lyrical, song-like quality to it, reminiscent perhaps of some of the European jazz quartets working in the 70’s on the ECM label, bringing to mind recordings made by Keith Jarrett, Bobo Stenson and Jan Garbarek. The music is inventive and evocative, whilst still radiating an inner serenity and accessibility which makes for a very enjoyable listen. An interesting development on this album is the use of vocals on three of the quartet’s tunes. These are provided by saxophonist Kummert and bassist Gilain, who know each other well from their time together in the soul band eNKa. In the main, they use short phrases taken from the song titles along with a few written words here and there, utilising their voices as a backdrop to the tune itself. This is a clever and effective use of the voice and certainly adds an original touch to the music as it works very well indeed, creating an enhanced edge to the instrumental tunes without getting in the way or muddying the waters. The first evidence of the vocal element comes in half way through the slowly burning “Lighthouse”. This thoughtful, reflective tune gradually builds and is lifted to a new place when the duo start singing “I’m looking for a lighthouse…” One of the album’s strongest compositions “Nothing Ever Lasts” is a wonderfully brooding piece of music and features a Coltrane-like Kummert before the engaging vocals come in towards the end of the track. The voices are used more prominently, more as a spiritual, gospel inflected chant, on the storming “Breathing Out My Soul”. This is a reinterpretation of gospel-blues at its best. It’s funky, groovy and highly infectious. There’s a classical sounding edge to the piano on “The Elegist” which is perhaps more reminiscent of Tuomarila’s playing heard on his trio recording, before the tune develops rhythmically and Kummert brings an authority and presence with his saxophone. There’s an unflustered energy to “Vagabond” which is a good example of how this quartet work so well together, the nuances and interplay between all four musicians being exemplary. Sting’s “King of Pain” is played here with Latin flavours, offering up a lighter, breezier touch from the band.
Drifter undoubtedly have a tightly knit foundation that is apparent throughout this recording, with melody, touch and feel at the heart of their tunes. There is some wonderful soloing from both Tuomarila and Kummert, providing an earthy, acoustic jazz album with depth and sincerity. Let’s hope the quartet don’t drift away once more and that we get to hear plenty of music from them over the coming years now that they have found a new home at Edition Records.