Ilmiliekki Quartet ‘Land of Real Men’ 2LP/CD (We Jazz) 3/5

Ilmiliekki Quartet first came together in 2002 for the Young Nordic Jazz Comets competition, and since its initiation, this Finnish band has performed with the line-up of Verneri Pohjola on trumpet, Tuomo Prättälä on piano, Antti Lötjönen on bass, and Olavi Louhivuori on drums. The band’s debut “March of the Alpha Males” came out in 2004 on TUM Records, who also released 2006’s “Take It With Me”. Since then, all four musicians have gone on to forge their own successful careers, none more so than trumpeter Pohjola who has now recorded albums for several labels, most recently on Edition Records, winning the award for jazz album of the year in Finland for “Bullhorn”.

Pohjola is one of those rare musicians who has a clearly defined and recognisable tone. It is often his sparse, atmospheric playing that is at the fore of his recordings, and so it’s no surprise that this is the case a fair bit here. That’s not to say that he and the band don’t let loose at times, as they most certainly do, notably on the wonderful “Singharat Soi 1” and the adventurous “Twisted Thistle”. For the most part though, “Land of Real Men” is an album of quiet, contemplative atmospheres, mixed with fragmented lines and pieces of sound that build in momentum and emotional energy. “Lonely Lonely” is the perfect example of this, it’s melancholic piano telling its own tale, as the other instruments combine as if in conversation, different latitudes eventually coming together on a path of harmony. The intoxicating “Afterimage” utilises that sparse use of instrumentation that is perhaps the trademark of this quartet, it’s uncluttered and unconfused, yet with a slightly experimental edge that many of the tunes on this album have. The title track is a more lively affair, the heartbeat of the tune being the drums and bass, allowing for trumpet and piano to feed on this lifeforce, with some very engaging solos.

Each track on “Land of Real Men” has its own stylish narrative and the character of the band is never in doubt. Ilmiliekki Quartet roughly translates as ‘Quartet Ablaze’. Whilst I personally wouldn’t say the quartet are ablaze on “Land of Real Men”, more simmering perhaps, it does contain some beautiful music none the less.

Mike Gates