Olli Ahvenlahti ‘The Poet’ (Mr Bongo/Love) 4/5

olli-ahvenlahtiFinnish multi-instrumentalist Olli Ahvenlahti will be a new name to most, but is in fact the leader of a larger ensemble comprising a four piece brass section and a meaty trio of drums and percussion that performs progressive big band with a consistently strong Latin undercurrent, and in tone at least his compositions are not without recalling those of Danish leader Palle Mikkelborg. For this project, Ahvenlahti alternates between acoustic and electric pianos, and organ with the use of synthesizers only to add layered textures. From the atmospheric bass riff and orchestral textures on ‘A day at the zoo’ the influence of Gil Evans is evident, especially in the phrasing of the horns and the piece shifts from a laid back entrance into an uptempo Latin number with an extended tenor saxophone solo. Soprano saxophone takes the lead on a funky back beat to ‘Sunday’s Stuff’ with Ahvenlahti creating some subtle shadings in the background. On the downbeat number ‘Aura’ (not the Mikkelberg composition on the collaboration with Miles Davis, but quite possibly a subtle nod to his influences), the leader reveals an interest in the multi-layered performances of the late great José Roberto Bertrami and this is one of the album highlights. The title track is a mid-tempo groover of a number with an extended flugelhorn solo from Markku Johansson who performs also on trumpet. To end the album on a high note, the band close with an organ-led Latin breezer, ‘Grandma’s rocking chair’ that features some Herbie Hancock-style musings on electric keyboards and a bassline and clavinet that is straight out of the Headhunters band. Mr Bongo are to be commended on championing this musician. Olli Ahvenlahti deserves to be heard by a much larger jazz audience beyond Scandinavia.

Tim Stenhouse