Iro Haarla: piano; Trygve Seim: saxophone; Hayden Powell: trumpet; Ulf Krokfors: bass; Mika Kallio: drums.
I’ve always had a huge respect for the Finnish pianist, harpist, and composer Iro Haarla, admiring her approach to music (including composition and arrangement) since the time she used to work with her late husband, the avant-garde drummer Edward Vesala.
Classically trained, she prefers the contemporary to traditional as she seamlessly interweaves modern classical and chamber-style jazz.
Two years ago, we could find her interpreting wonderful psalms and prayers in Kirkastus (Tum Records), a duo album recorded with the saxophonist/flutist Juhanni Aaltonen.
Ante Lucem, her third album for the ECM Records, was written for symphony orchestra and jazz quintet and mirrors all the musical qualities of the artist in four separate, yet highly-connected pieces.
It was recorded at the Concert Hall of NorrlandsOperan in Umea, Sweden, with her competent quintet composed of habitual collaborators - Trygve Seim on saxophones and Ulf Krokfors on bass - and a couple of new additions - Hayden Powell on trumpet and Mika Kallio on drums, who replaced Mathias Eick and Jon Christensen, respectively.
“Songbird Chapel”, a compound of sweet-tempered jazz and zealous classical music, gains epic dimensions with the time. Seim had the permission to give one step forward in order to speak frankly through his timbre-oriented drives. Strong emotions are set free when the orchestra pushes the mood to befit wondrous cinematic frames.
Haarla, who had unleashed breezy harp sweeps in the previous tune, switches to a dramatic piano in “Persevering with Winter”, a 19-minute piece whose first step is given with slightly ominous tones, triggering instantaneous clouds of obscurity. It’s like opening a web-covered ark full of secrets. Beautiful unisons and sophisticated textures can be found inside. The horn players have a preponderant role here, whether soloing individually or plunging into noisy collective maneuvers.
The final piece, “Ante Lucem: Before the Dawn” has a slow, harmonious awakening. In an early phase, its conduct oscillates between contemplative and dreamy. However, and even before halfway, there’s a radical turn triggered by rumbling percussion, firm bass lines and sparse piano voicings. This environment couldn’t be more propitious for the horn section to explore with confidence and pleading attitude, before all returns to the initial melancholy.
Pushing the boundaries of modern composition, Haarla intersperses light and darkness within a structured sound essay that can be teasing, glacial, or methodically declamatory.
This album is simultaneously evocative and revivifying.
02 – Persevering With Winter ► 04 – Ante Lucem: Before the Dawn