Alexi Tuomarila ‘Kingdom’ (Edition) 5/5

Alexi Tuomarila is, perhaps, better known more further afield in Europe than he is in Britain. However, his profile has been steadily rising in the UK since signing to the British label Edition Records. Tuomarila is a Finnish-born pianist and composer. He studied jazz and classical piano at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels. He has toured extensively both as band leader and as a member of Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko group. He has recorded seven albums as leader.
This album, as its predecessor, features the pianist’s now regular trio with Mats Eilertsen on bass and Olavi Louhivuori at the drums. Together they have the makings of a world-class trio. Indeed, the pianist and drummer have worked together with Stanko and feature on the trumpeter’s album ‘Dark Eyes’ (ECM, 2010).
As I have said previously, the European jazz scene seems almost over-populated with outstanding piano trios. It is therefore very difficult to standout in the crowd. The recording includes eight compositions by band-members together with Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-changin’.
Throughout their time working together this musical triad have formed an almost telepathic relationship such that they almost breathe as one. Emotionally charged at times, at others a pensive sadness pervades proceedings, but balanced with a cadenced drive. The pianist’s music can be intensely lyrical and occasionally has an almost folk-song like quality to it in a manner that we have come to expect from the current crop of Scandinavian jazz trios. The trio can play softly and with a delicate touch, and are masterful when they mix the solemn with the exuberant in more up-tempo pieces.

If you are looking for musical reference points, the closest that I can come is the music of pianists Joona Toivanen, also from Finland and the Italian, Claudio Filippini.

The opening track, ‘The Sun Hillock’ starts with a rock-inspired back-beat from the drums and piano and bass quickly come to the fore in unison. It’s only a short time before the pianist enters into his mesmerising flight of fancy, creating a musical kaleidoscope of sound, only to subside and return to the catchy and simply piano and bass melody. ‘Rytter’ which follows is in marked contrast with the drummer drawing this stick across the cymbals giving a sonic effect almost like a flute playing. A simple piano motif gradually builds and arco bass is added together with more insistent cymbal-work the trio reaching a peak and then gradually subsiding into delicate filigrees of sound. The ‘Girl in a Stetson Hat’ is a song which it seems to me should have lyrics added. It’s a melody which is sure to linger in the listener’s mind. Here I’m reminded of the music of another piano giant; Tord Gustavsen. ‘Vagabond’ opens with an insistent bass figure, before the piano and later the drums enter, gradually picking up the pace of the piece. This is an episodic piece with changes of mood and texture along the way. A rippling piano introduction to ‘The Times’ is a master-stroke and for me this is the best track on the album. It includes a wonderful bass feature too! Delicate intensity. An extended wonderful bass solo opens ‘Shadows’ before piano and drums join in a free-form but controlled dialogue. Again the piece changes character later becoming an almost intensely swinging affair. We get a couple more gear changes before the conclusion. Exciting stuff.

The concluding track ‘White Waters’ is eight minutes of controlled intensity and creativity. A languid folk-like melody emerges at one point and again I’m thinking that lyrics are required. This piece has the feel of something that may have been produced by EST at the height of their powers.

This is an album that demands your attention and will repay repeated listening. It almost goes without saying that the recorded sound is second to none. The album is sure to raise the profile of this master pianist still further. Highly recommended.

The trio have four dates in the UK in June, visiting London, Cardiff, Southampton and Manchester.

Alan Musson