Verneri Pohjola ‘Pekka’ 2LP/CD/DIG (Edition) 5/5

Verneri Pohjola is a new name to me and, I suspect, to many readers. The trumpeter and composer hails from Finland. He has released two previous albums on the prestigious ACT label (one of these garnered a five star review from The Guardian) and another on Edition, ‘Bullhorn‘, from 2015 which received the Uk Vibe stamp of approval. Pohjola having signed to the British Editions label is sure to become very familiar to all in the coming months, aided by the release of his latest album.
As with its Scandinavian neighbours, Finland seems steeped in a very lyrical style of jazz. Pohjola reinforces this with the deeply affecting purity of tone. Melody is key to his music, both in his playing and in his compositions, which linger long in the memory of the listener.
This latest album is available as a double LP in gatefold packaging, as a digital album, or as a conventional CD. It reinterprets the music of Verneri’s late father, the acclaimed prog-rock bassist and composer, Pekka Pohjola. Verneri uses his skills as a trumpeter to blend “raw emotion, technical finesse and control” and is able to tread the often difficult path between “accessibility and the avant-garde”.

Alongside the leader’s trumpet are Fender Rhodes, guitar, bass and drums. The music spans two decades of his father’s output and Pohjola has found the process of rediscovering and recording the music “an emotional and therapeutic exercise”.
The album opens with ‘Dragon’ and is delightfully melodic and evocative. Pohjola producing that familiar, breathy, ethereal trumpet sound, aided by pulsating bass and almost otherworldly keyboard and guitar sounds. Then, just three minutes into the theme, an altogether more urgent and aggressive sound emerges, alternating with the more melodic cadences of the song.
‘First Morning’ is next which gives guitarist and drummer a chance to shine. There is also a nice feature for the keyboard player.

‘Inke and Me’ is different again, more thoughtful and contemplative, almost wistful. There’s a wonderful anthemic nature to the theme that emerges towards the end of the performance.
‘Pinch’ is much more extrovert in nature, the group making full use of the possibilities available to them by the use of electronic instruments. Each track seems to have distinct episodes, the music seems to ebb and flow, keeping the listener’s interest throughout.

There are some very lengthy tracks on the album ‘Madness Subsides’ is a tour de force at almost fourteen minutes, This is a beautiful tone poem, initially highlighting the guitarists sound to which is soon added pensive keyboards. And soulful double bass. Again, around the half way point, the pace changes to something more sinister, making full use of the electronics. Then the tempo picks up, before finally subsiding into elegant repose. This is a completely absorbing piece of music.
‘Benjamin’ follows, initially highlighting the magnificent bass playing. The trumpet here makes subtle use of what I guess to be over-dubbing. Again, this track has various sections, almost like ‘movements’.
‘Innocent Questions’ commences with ethereal keyboards and is a lovely introduction to the trumpet. For me, this is the highlight of the album.

There are seven tracks on the album, most coming in at around the seven to eight minute mark but with a couple exceeding ten minutes.
I soon forgot that the source music for the album was prog-rock. This is completely original and compelling music. Pohjola and friends succeed in taking the listener on an emotional journey into a hitherto unexplored area of music. Even if you are unfamiliar with his father’s music, there is still much enjoyment to be gained from this album.

Alan Musson