Label: Ropeadope Records, 2019
Personnel - Olli Hirvonen: guitar; Luke Marantz: piano; Marty Kenney: bass; Nathan Ellman-Bell: drums.
Up-and-coming Finnish guitarist Olli Hirvonen is conquering his own space in the modern fusion sphere. Based in Brooklyn, he has been a valuable sideman in Brian Krock’s successful projects, Big Heart Machine and Liddle. This year, he is releasing Displace, his third album as a leader and his debut on Ropeadope Records. With rich ideas sprouting from his unreserved musical mind, he brilliantly consolidates distinct genres into his original compositions, played with partners he knows well. Indeed, pianist Luke Marantz, bassist Marty Kenney, and drummer Nathan Ellman-Bell had all contributed to the guitarist’s previous recording, New Helsinki (Edition Records, 2017).
The assorted repertoire is attractive and “No Light”, the CD's opener, shows right away what the group is capable of. Thunderous piano convulsions announce a swaggering entrance in the post-rock and prog-rock realms. Hirvonen employs crystalline harmonics with the finest of tastes and then discourses with incontestable jazz authority, notwithstanding the fact of being pinched by an ingrained rock stimulus. The stellar comping offered by Marantz can be fully savored before he throws in tantalizing improvised lines with clarity and agility.
Following this big impression, the title cut is a prog-rock stunner in seven, exhibiting two different layers of chords for a polyrhythmic effect. Sagacity is found in Ellman-Bell’s beat displacements, and the intricate distorted melodicism makes you constantly immersed in the music. During his improvisation, Hirvonen brews metal licks with tension and drama, while Marantz starts in a prudent way, building up muscle as his speech develops. The final quarter brings an effusive drumming flux with gorgeous accents, patterns, and fills to center stage, with slabs of noise enshrouding them.
The immutable “Size Constancy” and “Tactile” make sympathetic observations. The former, an art rock-meets-bluesy jazz song ruled by a 6/8 tempo, is prone to unisons and ostinatos, whereas the latter, inspired by Dave Holland’s writing, delves into a perfectly danceable funk rock delivered with an electronic vibe and armed with a piping hot, Zappa-inspired guitar solo.
“Faction” lodges complex unison melodies, which navigate jazzy harmonies before guitar and piano start a passionate dialogue. Individual statements are also of note.
On practically every tune, the band knows how to chill out through quieter passages, preventing the atmospheres from getting too dense. Yet, the closing piece, “Unravel”, offers something different, boasting an indie country-pop airiness from tip to toe and having the skilled acoustic fingerpicking disseminating luminous rays of hope.
Hirvonen conceives a gripping and somewhat intriguing record that it is just so fun to listen to. If you haven’t heard his name before, you certainly will soon.
01 - No Light ► 02 - Displace ► 07 - Unravel