3TM ‘Abyss (A Prelude to Lake)’ LP/Cassette / ‘Lake’ LP/CD (We Jazz) 5/5

3TM’s 2017 album, ‘Form’, earned them jazz album of the year in their native Finland, it’s followed by a pair of records, Abyss and Lake. Abyss, released back in August by Helsinki’s We Jazz label is a series of richly immersive electronic abstractions consisting of waves, pulses and echoes which whet the appetite for the more recent November issue of Lake.

3TM are led by drummer and producer Teppo Mäkynen with Jussi Kannaste, tenor sax and Antti Lötjönen, bass. Mäkynen composed both albums, he describes the character of each record, “Lake is reflecting what is on the surface, a metaphor for concrete living things” and describes swimming in lakes during the summer in Finland, enjoying untamed nature but simultaneously fearing what could be concealed in the murky depths of the water.

He says Abyss, by contrast, is concerned with the subconscious and the soul, how we can’t really see and can only guess at what lies beneath the surface. Praise of nature is also an important theme and ambitiously the music is “dedicated to all things living and dying”.

Each album has a distinctly different character, the pure electronica of Abyss comes across as being more about mood and atmosphere, being totally submerged in water where sounds are distant and hard to decipher. Lake, on the other hand, has a more jazz orientated feel, the electronics discreetly woven in as the band bring focus by making concrete what was implicit on Abyss.

If listening to Abyss is swimming a length underwater, Lake is the moment you stick your head back up, when sound and vision are clear once more. I’ve selected six tracks from the album Lake to talk about.

The electronic waves from Abyss ripple their way through the album Lake but tend to be more of an undercurrent, occasionally rising to the surface. The first track is the brief ‘Seven Keys’, it begins with a simple keyboard motif repeated with accompanying sax and the inclusion of what can only be described as a sonar pulse. The atmosphere builds with string-like keyboard texture as the original motif fades leaving the sonar pulse as the only remaining sound.

Full immersion takes place on the second track ‘Lake’, it has a light feel initially, with Mäkynen offering some intricate brushwork interplay with the bass combined with sounds somewhere between the earlier sonar pulse and that of dripping water. There is also a distinct hint of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry in the way an echo is used to fuse genres. An airy mood is emphasized with a keyboard melody, this gradually shifts into something akin to guitar feedback as Kannaste’s sax lets rip in a momentary ‘out there’ Coltrane mode. It all calms down as the bass returns to the original melody revealing once again the presence of the sonar pulse.

‘A Pile of Broken Dreams’ comes in with a marimba-like soundscape and washes of synth before settling into an analogue attitude reminiscent of late 60s Gary Burton. The sax returns with a mournful refrain pushing the vibes mood further back. It’s not long before a more contemporary feel is deftly layered into the mix and the keyboard once again has more prominence. With a sensation of returning to the shore we hear birdsong which appropriately leads to the next track ‘Woods’, there’s a fluid elasticity to the rhythm as Kannaste’s sax melody weaves its way over a more ominous undercurrent.

‘Suburban Portraits’ continues the genre-melding theme with a 90s electronica feel, think Air meets a Talk Talk or Mark Hollis tune. The sax, drum and bass eventually dance around the reprised sonar pulse, this then flows seamlessly into ‘Model Two’ where the acoustic instruments are set aside in favour of liquid atmospherics.

Lake is for me the more accessible of the two recordings but the more I listen to it, the more I want to go back and listen to Abyss, the pure abstractions of which seem to make more sense after becoming familiar with the album Lake. They are an intriguing and enigmatic pair of records which powerfully conjured plenty of visual imagery as I listened. If you get one, you’ll have to get the other.

James Read