Finnish trumpeter Martti Vesala attempted to capture the sounds and flavors of his home base Helsinki with a classic jazz quintet. The aural picture that emerges on Helsinki Soundpost is a delightful tour.
This talented young horn player fronts the equally young Soundpost quintet, which finds him out front with Petri Puolitaival on tenor and occasionally flute, backed by a strong rhythm section of pianist Joonas Haavisto, bass player Juho Kivivuori and drummer Ville Pynssi, Finns all from their names. And although they’re all Finns and the program is something of a musical tour of Helsinki, Helsinki Soundpost‘s sound is more American than Scandinavian, drawing on classic sounds of the hard bop era of the ’50s and ’60s, some modernist bits, and some of the soul jazz excursions of the ’70s.
I find that the bookends of jazz albums often tell you a great deal about the album as a whole, and Soundpost is no exception. It leads off with “Smoke,” one of the most programmatic pieces, a sinuous and deft sound portrait of a Finnish spring morning. The august rhythm section sets the caffeinated pace that underlies the piece, like the heartbeat of a city waking up, while the horns swan about languidly until pianist Haavisto takes the reins for a driving and percussive improvisation.
The final track “Yamal” is also the longest at 10 minutes – again, relatively typical for a jazz album. It’s named for the peninsula currently claimed by Russia that juts out toward Finland, a traditional home of reindeer herders. It begins and ends with majestic free-form improvs with a middle section that’s an urbane blues prominently featuring Vesala’s dry clear trumpet voicings and nimble valve work, which at various points recall Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard. Oh, and stick around for Haavisto’s climactic piano wrap-up, too.
Between those bookends the tunes alternately evoke what would seem to be the more picturesque elements of Helsinki, and more modern facets of the city. For the former there’s “Lumi,” which means snow, a slow evocation of a first snowfall, Vesala’s muted trumpet and Puolitaival’s flute blending modern jazz and fin de siecle impressionism; the intimate and lyrical “Carvings,” where the twining interplay between trumpet and flute mirror the intricate handiwork of a woodworker, and the steady beats set by the rhythm section could be the worker’s calm and steadfast heartbeats; and the bluesy, slow-flowing improv of “Soundpost.” In between there’s lots of straight-ahead jazz in “Decline” and “Headfirst,” plus the soulful post-bop of “A Blessing In Disguise.” The piano-bass-drums trio really soars here, playing off each other in a lengthy middle section between the minimalist horn choruses.
Although the Soundpost Quintet never gets too far out, you can see that there’s enough variety to keep things interesting, as Vesala says in the publicity notes, “I wanted to challenge my composition skills. My aim is to keep experimenting with this formation to see how many different nuances and musical structures I can come up with for this all-acoustic setting.” This album makes me want to get on a jet and see Helsinki for myself, and also leaves me eager for more from this quintet.