OK:KO ‘Syrtti’ LP/CD (WE JAZZ) 4/5

Helsinki’s We Jazz Records have been releasing some fine albums of late, and this new offering from Finnish quartet OK:KO cements their growing reputation. This band is led by drummer Okko Saastamoinen and their spiritual, searching sound is characterised by their highly personal musical language and genuine teamwork which has been honed by continuous touring.

The ensemble includes “some of the most sought-after talents of the young generation of Finnish jazz”. Soulful sax player Jarno Tikka is joined by bassist Mikael Saastamoinen and pianist Toomas Keski-Säntti, with their combined talents successfully creating a strong identity and musical statement.

Sonically, OK:KO invites the listener to discover several delicious little bits and pieces within a bigger picture. The textures and melodies are enthralling, with smaller musical brushstrokes building up towards a colourful palette of sound. There is an undoubted warmth and joy to their music, one which obviously comes from the heart of the music… and the musicians themselves.

Each of the seven original compositions has its own identity, but there is a connection between all of the tracks, consolidating an overall sense of belonging. This is a group of young musicians who have already found their own voice and are confident enough to pursue a direction of their own making… and I very much like that.

The title track “Syrtti” rolls out as a Coltranesque large canvas piece, but takes its space naturally and pivots into unchartered waters after the sax led opening. This track showcases the band at their best, delivering the goods both in terms of hook-laden composition and in the fearless improvisation within. It also highlights the incredibly mature and inspired sax playing of Jarno Tikka, surely set to become a star of the jazz world in the near future.

“Soma” is a catchy composition, where the track’s DNA runs solid throughout while the focus switches from one instrument to the other, from layer to layer, it seems that the odd four minutes are plenty enough time for the band to build a sonic narrative which sticks with you long after the tune has finished.

The longest track on the album, “Kilpeli” reminds me a little of a Mark Guiliana Quartet tune, in its feel and style. As with much of this album, there’s a journey within a journey as the piece unfolds, finding its own path by way of several directions, before striding homeward. The complexities of the writing are matched by the improvisational freedom as all four musicians show their skills and understanding of how true original music lives and breathes.

There are riches to be found on all of the tunes presented here and if “Syrtti” is anything to go by, we have lots to look forward to from this new wave of Finnish jazz.

Mike Gates

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