Nathan Francis ‘NFQ Feat. Eero Koivistoinen’ LP/CD (Ajabu!) 4/5

‘NFQ’ marks the debut outing from bassist and composer, Nathan Francis, who finds his anticipated project unveiled through Ajabu! Records.

Having previously released music from Cecilia Stalin, Sofi Hellborg and the Hi-Fly Orchestra, Ajabu! have a real gem in the form of Francis and his Quartet. Originally from Portland, US, Francis’ education ultimately saw him undergo studies from such respected institutions including the Alan Jones Academy of Music, the Centrum Jazz Workshop, the Stanford Jazz Workshop and the San Francisco Conservatory. His studies would ultimately take him overseas to Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy of Music which led to Francis becoming ingrained within the Finnish jazz scene.

A frequent performer and collaborator, as a bassist, Francis can boast being a key contributor to some notable projects including Maisemat’s self-titled release for Eclipse Music (2019) and Alder Ego’s ‘III’ album for We Jazz (2021).

It’s a testament to the abilities of Francis that he’s able to have recruited such a powerhouse team of Finnish luminaries to comprise his first Quartet release. With releases by his own Quintet through Jazzaggression Records, Aleksi Heinola claims the drumming duties for ‘NFQ’ – a hard bop enthusiast, Heinola’s Quintet is renowned for paying tribute to past icons like drummer Art Blakey and pianist Horace Silver. Pianist Markus Niittynen, a revered name in Finnish jazz music, who, amongst his many releases, can boast heading up the Markus Niittynen Trio along with contributions to projects by Kaira and Aulanko. And finally, the Quartet is bolstered by tenor saxophonist Eero Koivistoinen – a legendary name within Finland’s jazz lineage. As a musician, producer and composer, Koivistoinen’s is a career that began in the 1960s and has more accolades and accomplishments attributed to it than space in this article will allow us to fully delve into.

Of the six tracks that comprise the ‘NFQ’ release, the infectious up-tempo energy of the album opener ‘Minor Solution’ and the gentle swing of ‘Late Show’ are actually attributed as Koivistoinen compositions while ‘Crystal Clear’ is courtesy of pianist Niittynen. The remaining three tracks are reimagined classics originally by John Hicks (‘After the Morning’) and John Coltrane (‘Vilia’). Very possibly though the album highlight is delivered in the form of the reinterpretation of Cecil McBee’s ‘Song of Her’ – a sublime ballad that revels somewhere between melancholy and nostalgia and is no less a joy through either lens.

Francis’ vision for ‘NFQ’ is inspired in its approach – a quartet comprised of musicians representing different ages and generations but still displaying a shared and unified perspective on the music they make together. Hopefully, it won’t be too long until they make more.

Imran Mirza