Alder Ego ‘II’ LP/CD (WE JAZZ) 4/5

Finnish record label and festival organisation We Jazz continue with their enlightened approach to contemporary jazz with this release by Alder Ego, a new group of (mainly) quartet formation here comprised of bandleader and producer Joonas Leppänen on drums, Jarno Tikka on saxophone, Tomi Nikku on trumpet and Teemu Åkerblom playing double bass. Additionally, Ilkka Uksila plays vibes on two tracks. And although the album is titled ‘II’ there is no ‘I’!

‘Les Chant De Sirènes’ begins with a detuned snare drum pattern, before the complementing trumpet and saxophone elements provide the musical interior for the piece including a subtle but effective solo by Tomi Nikku. ‘Cubism’, an apparent influence on the project, continues with a similar sensibility with its loose trumpet and sax parts and solos, while Joonas Leppänen’s drumming is subdued and discreet, as per his playing throughout the rest of the album. With ‘Vultures’, bassist Teemu Åkerblom becomes more prominent as he plays upright bass with a bow, which affords a somewhat atmospheric quality to the composition, allowing the trumpet and saxophone to become more disconcerting. ‘Vultures’ is possibly my favourite piece of the set.

Both ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Flight’ include the excellent work of vibraphonist Ilkka Uksila. His work here thoroughly respects the other textures supplied by the main group. At times, these two compositions remind one of some of Gary Burton’s 1970 ECM releases, wherein, they were also without piano or keyboard parts, and so, devoid of the chordal framework offered by a pianist.
‘Blood Moon’ and ‘Solitude’ complete the album with certain aspects of the saxophone reminiscent of UK musician Dick Heckstall-Smith’s (1934-2004) jazzier moments.

Being negative, it could be argued that Ilkka Uksila could have played a more prominent role as the added vibraphone on ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Flight’ provided some valued supplementary textures – but possibly less is more in this instance. With a drummer as bandleader, Joonas Leppänen is happy to sanction his team to lead the way, especially letting Jarno Tikka and Tomi Nikku become the main focus of the project, and so, the album does not contain the standard flash of drum solos like many drummer lead ventures. But I feel that bassist Teemu Åkerblom was possibly underused as he was mostly employed to maintain the rhythm section that underpins the horn elements, and plus, his bass level was quite low within the overall mix.

The lack of piano and thus typical chord work could be seen as an advantage as this allows the arrangements to deviate, meander and evolve over their duration in a way that is difficult with straight piano chord progressions. And it’s this juxtaposition which is liberating especially considering the album still maintains a strong melodic centre, while the quartet orientation never feels sparse or light.

It’s no secret that we love We Jazz here at UK Vibe. They continue to ever so slightly push jazz forward with their relatively nuanced catalogue of releases, but not in a clinical or too radical direction to alienate listeners. The growing We Jazz discography is edgy and progressive, always allowing its artists to be creative within their own terms, but they continually generate releases that are interesting, ambitious and warrant many additional plays.

Damian Wilkes