The jazz coming out of Finland these days is distinctive and adventurous. Yet there is not a living Finnish jazz musician who is truly famous outside the Nordic region. Verneri Pohjola could change that. He is a trumpet player with lethal chops and a deeply poetic sensibility.
He has engaged in many diverse collaborations over his 20-year career. His longest association, and perhaps his most “inside” project, is the Ilmiliekki Quartet. Pohjola, pianist Tuomo Prättälä, bassist Antti Lötjönen, and drummer Olavi Louhivuori formed a group in 2002 for a Nordic jazz competition. They have been together, off and on, ever since.
“Inside” is relative. Everything this band plays sounds fresh to the ear. All four write tunes. Such a democratic approach is popular among musicians but often limiting. Not many quartets contain four strong composers. This one does. Just one example is “Night Song” by Louhivuori (who was once the drummer for another great trumpet player, Tomasz Stanko). Its melody is like a drawn-out sigh. It is an ideal vehicle for Pohjola, because he is not just a spontaneous melodist but a conjurer of atmosphere, a navigator through shifting tides of emotion. Few trumpet players possess such a profound understanding of silence. When he breaks the silence, his plaintive lines are like calls of the heart. Perhaps they are more like the human subconscious given voice.
Another perfect tune for this band is the only cover, “Aila,” by the Finnish dream-pop group Karina. It is a delicate wisp, an enigma. Prättälä and Lötjönen set the mood with lonely, isolated notes that prove their own intimacy with silence. Pohjola traces and repeats the bare outline of the haunting theme in open musical space. Then, once it requires no more recurrences, he soars away, in shattering ascents.
Two names to remember: Verneri Pohjola and Ilmiliekki Quartet.