Ville Herrala ‘Pu’ LP/CD (We Jazz) 4/5

This distinctively abstract solo outing from Finnish bassist Ville Herrala is an undeniably intense offering. It also reveals an unexpectedly expansive universe of the upright bass in microcosm. Well established in his native country but not so well known outside Finland, Herrala is more often found as part of Finnish free jazz trio PLOP’s rhythm section. He’s also played with plenty of other acts on the Finnish scene: Jukka Perko Jazztet, U-Street All-stars, and Anti Lötjönen as well as supporting some big names, notably Dave Holland.

Clocking in at just thirty minutes Pu consists of a series of highly concentrated miniature studies simply numbered ‘Pu: 1-14’. The audience is free to focus purely on what’s happening with sound in the present moment rather than associate with other ideas or themes. His music forms a direct connection to the nervous system of the listener such is the purity of these very direct sounds. The album, although focused on just one instrument, has an inspiring range of approaches. It’s not quite as far out there as the solo work of someone like bassist Peter Kowald but not far off in places. In contrast to Dave Holland’s solo bass album ‘Ones All’, this album’s lack of melody has the potential to make the record a little intimidating to some of us at least; Herrala has ingeniously overcome this hurdle by offering his blend of free jazz in conveniently digestible bite-sized segments. Different flavours are emphasized and complemented by the way the tracks flow. Herrala speaks of jazz as ‘a very large umbrella whose edges are blurred’. Of his work with PLOP he says ‘jazz is a language where we can be completely free and trust each other’. On this disc, the trust is simply in himself and it certainly pays dividends.

First up is ‘Pu: 1’, a funky upbeat rhythmically dynamic exploration, the physicality of the playing is evident and Herrala’s fingers almost become another instrument. On ‘Pu: 2’ Herrala evokes guitar feedback as his bow cuts decisively into the strings by changing their pitch with a visceral intensity. By contrast ‘Pu: 3’ is a gentler, tentative and contemplative piece, the focus is on the immediacy of sound rather than structure. There are some hard to place sounds on ‘Pu: 4’, a rasping breath is evoked as the bow scrapes across the strings and the tone of a sax is almost present; there’s a mournful quality to the sound, it’s layered somehow with a higher pitch paradoxically buried somewhere within. For my money, one of the most impressive pieces is ‘Pu 12’ in which Herrala has created simultaneous rhythms which combine a whirring bass tone with a percussive tapping higher up in the register; he forges quite a sense of drama and tension in these three minutes. As the album progresses across its 14 tracks they tend to reveal their colour and texture by the way they’re so effectively juxtaposed with one another.

It may be brief in duration but every single note counts here as Herrala forensically probes the possibilities of his instrument. His level of invention is striking which makes for compelling listening.

James Read