Ville Vannemaa ‘Cassiopeia’ LP [includes CD] (Jazzaggression) 5/5

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were gushing about Jazzaggression releases – namely drummer Aleksi Heinola’s Quintet and their excellent debut, self-titled album released earlier this year. This time, however, it’s the new album by Finnish saxophonist Ville Vannemaa, ‘Cassiopeia’, that has us swooning and reaching for the replay button.

Vannemaa studied at the Sibelius Academy’s jazz department and the Paris Conservatory and having spent years as a member of Kalevi Louhivuori Quintet, Teddy’s West Coasters and Teemu Åkerblom Quartet, as well as having contributed to projects by Kerkko Koskinen Kollektiivi and Vantaan Vilhdeorkesteri, Vannemaa has developed a reputation as one of the most revered saxophonists in Finland.

For his ‘Cassiopeia’ project, Vannemaa has assembled a stunning quintet comprised of long-time friends and collaborators: bassist Heikko Remmel (Max Zenger Globus, Kimara lovelace), drummer Jaska Lukkarinen (Jimi Tenor, Ricky-Tick Big Band), trombonist Kasperi Sarikoski (UMO Jazz Orchestra, Eija Kantola) and vibraphonist Panu Savolainen (Timo Lassy, Joanna Wang).

‘Cassiopeia’ features six tracks, composed by Vannemaa, and on the vinyl version of the album, the songs find themselves discerningly split into two categories: the ‘light side’ and the ‘dark side’. The CD version – which does thankfully accompany the vinyl version of the album as well – boasts an additional two bonus tracks not seemingly allocated to either ‘side’ (‘Ring The Bell’ and ‘Bacta Tank Blues’).

The gentle twinges of swing found in ‘Hyacinth’ along with the energy and vibrancy of ‘Hurry Up’ are impeccable contributions to the ‘light side’ but it really is the ‘dark side’ of the album that propels this project to another level. The sweet, almost romantic, melancholy attached to ‘Sorrow’ absolutely pulls you in and then there’s the sublime, almost ethereal nature of ‘Stars’ that is just captivating. The work of Panu Savolainen on vibraphone really does deserve special mention – his versatility when playing adds a fantastic new dimension to ‘Cassiopeia’ enabling him to excel on compositions whether they fall into the ‘light’ or ‘dark’ sides of the album.

Bassist Daryl Runswick once bestowed high praise for Vannemaa’s sax playing describing it as a “touch of Trane, touch of Pharoah”, while the Jazzaggression website refers to ‘Cassiopeia’ as a “future classic assured!”. They might just be very right.

Imran Mirza