Make a note: Alexi Tuomarila is one of the next big deals on jazz piano. He is known mostly for the one album he made with Tomasz Stanko, 2009’s Dark Eyes on ECM. Stanko knows how to choose piano players. The two before Tuomarila were Bobo Stenson and Marcin Wasilewski; the one after was David Virelles.
Tuomarila is from Finland. So is the volatile drummer here, Olavi Louhivuori, who also played with Stanko. The strong, strategic bassist is Mats Eilertsen of Norway. Guitarist André Fernandes of Portugal makes a brief, memorable appearance.
Tuomarila has chops. Diverse, fresh forms of lyricism flow from him, often swiftly. But that is probably not why Stanko chose him. Tuomarila sounds like a young man with an old soul. Like Stanko, he is a conjurer of mood and atmosphere. Seven Hills is its own world, a unified realm of complex emotion.
Many pieces follow a similar arc. “Pearl,” “Jibeinia” and “Seven Hills” begin with a slow, simple figure, stark as a hymn but with an implicit groove. Their dark, yearning melodies are first riveted onto the air by Eilertsen’s bass. Then Tuomarila’s chords search for an opening, and eventually become brilliant streams of single notes, long twisting strands of light. Each piece is a separate ceremony, a ritual leading to release. One is in fact called “Ceremony,” and it has the album’s moments of purest passion, where Fernandes burns a dramatic ascent in stinging guitar cries and sustains.
But then there are performances like “Skuld” and “Visitor,” where release is immediate. They turn Tuomarila loose in floods of ideas. He sails on the surging energy of Eilertsen and Louhivuori.