OK:KO: Syrtti

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On its second outing, youthful Helsinki quartet OK:KO evokes the early-60s Coltrane modal sound, with an assured voice that hints at more power beneath the restrained surface.

Leader Okko Saastamoinen often steps forth as main soloist on drums, as on the edgy standout track Piik, the only one he didn’t write. Its composer, pianist Toomas Keski-Säntti, lays down an insistent rhythm with bassist Mikael Saastamoinen (no relation) while saxophonist Jarno Tikka states the strong, simple melody with no frills. That sets an elegant framework for the bandleader’s loose, propulsive drumming, building to GoGo Penguin-like intensity before coming to an abrupt halt. 

Most of the rest of the album is meditative and unadorned. The sparse Sun Sleep offers the lithe muscularity of a ballet dancer, Tikka again repeating a simple theme underpinned by Keski-Säntti’s subtle vibraphone-edged pattern, leaving room for the leader’s subtle rhythmic and melodic drum explorations. 

The long finale Kiipeli is ponderous, enlivened by Keski-Säntti’s pleasingly zigzagging Monkish piano perambulations. Tikka’s long, thought-out sax solo climaxes with spiralling sheets of sound before steering the boat neatly back into harbour. This gives a glimpse of where this band could go if they’d let their hair down and break loose, as they can live.

Like many of Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy-trained jazz musicians, the OK:KO members are technically ace yet restrained and polite to a fault. This is an album that gradually reveals its strengths on repeated listens – but still leaves one wanting more.

Discography
Syrtti, Piik, Arizona, Full Pull, Soma, Sun Sleep, Kiipeli (38.29)
Okko Saastamoinen (d); Jarno Tikka (ts); Toomas Keski-Säntti (p); Mikael Saastamoinen (b), Sipoo, Finland, 2018.
We Jazz WJLP11 / WJCD11