Verneri Pohjola ‘Bullhorn’ CD (Edition) 4/5

verneri-pohjolaOccasionally a group of musicians make a recording and one is left thinking; these guys were born to perform together. Verneri Pohjola’s Bullhorn is such an album. There is a certain “quartet sound” that stops me in my tracks. It’s a beautifully lush, bold, in the pocket piano, bass, drums and horn sound that washes all my troubles away when I hear it. That special sound is supplied here by Finnish trumpeter/composer Verneri Pohjola and his compatriot’s pianist Aki Rissanen, bassist Antti Lotjonen and drummer Teppo Makynen. There is natural energy throughout “Bullhorn”, one that simmers and burns brightly with Pohjola’s lyrical writing, overflowing with melodic ideas that the band express in such a personal, affecting way. There is a real substance and integrity to the music, captured perfectly by the musicians.
The album opens with “Another Day” and the scene is set right from the off with Pohjola’s Miles-like trumpet themes hovering above the tightly interconnected rhythm section. “Girls of Costa Rica” introduces Jussi Kannaste on tenor saxophone, allowing for some well-worked horn harmonies to weave and wind their way around a laid back groove of bass and drums. The sensitive “He sleeps, I keep watch” is reminiscent of a Christian Scott track. New Orleans trumpeter Scott burst on to the scene a few years back with his brilliant band, bringing new life and energy to traditional jazz themes. Pohjola’s playing is similar to Scott’s in its stark beauty and subtle melodies. The title track is a highly original creation, utilising fully the creative skills of the band members, all of whom are afforded time and space to fully express themselves. The slow, meandering “In La Borie” is a lesson in captivating melancholia. Both this track and the following ballad “This one is for you” would sit comfortably on a Tomasz Stanko release. The mood is broken with the Ornette Coleman-like “Nanomachines” before we are led into the warm, majestic sounds of “Ouroboros”. Some of the best on this album is saved for last. The penultimate track “Cold Blooded” has an incredible brass hook at its heart, with folk-inspired interludes. The final track “The End is Nigh” is a tour de force. It begins calmly enough, but as it builds and hits us with the surprise inclusion of added sax, trombone and cello, it is simply stunning; creating a masterful big band sound, highlighting Phojola’s compositional skills with a brilliant flourish.

“Bullhorn” is a wonderful album, showcasing some creative and inventive writing from Verneri Pohjola. It succeeds in many different ways and on many levels. It is also yet another inspired release from Edition Records.

Mike Gates

A relaxed feel is the order of the day on this latest release by Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola and overall there is a folk-oriented feel that is not dissimilar to other Scandinavian musicians such as Trod Gustavsen with pared-down instrumentation and inventive use of percussion. In parts the tone is mournful as on, ‘He Sleeps, I Keep Watch’, with gentle ensemble work on the brooding bass line while the opener ‘Another Day’ grows into a roving mid-tempo number with the leader in fine form. The thirty-six year old leader seems to have been influenced by the ‘Birth of the Cool’ era of Miles Davis as well as by the bop inflections of Booker Little, and more recently perhaps by Terence Blanchard. Certainly, the brass ensemble sound harks back to the early-mid 1960s in outlook. On the ballad, ‘In la Borie’, excellent use of space is made by pianist Aki Rissanen who is melodic throughout and, in general, the quartet work well together. In general, perhaps a greater variation in tempo is required to retain the listener’s attention more vividly through a whole album. An interesting recording nonetheless from a musician who would do well to focus more explicitly on blending the folk music of his native land within a jazz idiom for a future project.

Tim Stenhouse