Olli Hirvonen ‘New Helsinki’ CD/DIG (Edition) 4/5

Formed in 2008, Edition Records describes itself as a “..British record label with a European sensibility and global presence”. This statement tells us not only about their roots, but also something about their vision and the scale of their ambition. A distinctly European approach is nothing new and is quite bold considering it puts them up against more established counterparts like ECM and ACT. Edition’s impact has been significant and demonstrates that their strap line is more than just words. In the past 12 months alone, albums by Jasper Høiby, Eyolf Dale, Verneri Pohjola and Alexi Tuomarila have been given top marks here at UK Vibe. The label also had three albums in Jazzwise’s top 20 of the year, including their number one pick, “One” by Tim Garland.

Olli Hirvonen is further evidence of the strength within Edition’s roster. Winner of Artist of the Year at the Pori Jazz Festival 2011 and more recently the Jazz Guitar competition at the 2016 Montreux Jazz Festival, Hirvonen moved to New York from his native Finland in 2011 to complete his formal musical education, staying on past graduation to mix it in Jazz’s capital.

This is Hirvonen’s second album. His debut, “Detachment”, revealed a talent for composition and catchy riffs, but for me it felt like it paid a little too much respect to the tradition of jazz guitar. “New Helsinki” is quite different. Not only does it marry Hirvonen’s past with his present in space and time, but musically as well, revealing a rockier side to his sound revealing earlier influences. As a creative statement it’s bold and forward sounding. Hirvonen fuses jazz and rock, in the way of the likes of Larry Coryell, but with a contemporary edge.

This vision is apparent from the outset. “ARPS” builds quickly round a fast, infectious, circulating theme into neat overlapping layers of Hirvonen’s rocky guitar licks and pianist Luke Marantz’s elegant phrasing. Think of contrasts that work – I can’t get past salted caramel – and you get the idea.
The sense of drive, powered by a machine-gun rhythm is even more apparent on longer tracks like “Gravity”, “Fundamental” and “Absolute”. Here there is more scope for soloing; Hirvonen is generous in his arrangements giving the other front of stage players, Marantz on piano and Rhodes, Walter Smith III on tenor sax and Adam O’Farrill on trumpet, room to add their own voices, introducing different textures and tones to the arrangements. Smith III plays with a passion and spirit that reminds me of Kamasi Washington. Oh, and if the O’Farrill name may ring a bell; it’s because he’s from good Jazz stock, the son of pianist and composer Arturo and grandson of bandleader Chico.

“Fundamental”, as the title suggests, is focussed, raw and direct, energetic, urgent and quite funky. “Absolute” creates tension as it builds feverishly and then just as you think Hirvonen is going to let rip with the mother of all guitar solos he drops the tempo into a blissfully open and mellowed out finale. The interest and variety within this tune alone are worth the price of admission.

Throughout Hirvonen demonstrates genuine skill and touch. Even within the rockier solos he plays without excess and with an intricate and intimate style that is both fluid and natural.

Edition Records strike again!

Andy Hazell