Small independent record labels documenting a local scene are nothing new, but there’s something particularly special about Helsinki’s We Jazz collective. A shop, festival and now a boutique record label releasing high quality vinyl pressings, with each passing release its influence seems to grow.
The sheer depth of local talent is of course a key ingredient in the We Jazz story, and anybody new to the label should probably look no further than its ongoing Live Plates series. Ateneum 2019 is the second volume of three, and all are worth hearing. The first was recorded in Berlin in 2017 and featured the Bowman Trio, Black Motor and the Jaska Lukkarinen Trio, while Volume 3 was recorded on the island of Lonna and showcases the Aleksi Heinola Quintet, Antti Lötjönen’s Quintet East, and the powerful spiritual jazz of quartet Oaagaada.
Ateneum draws on three separate shows from early 2019 at Helsinki’s Ateneum Art Museum by the Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen duo, OK:KO, and drummer Joonas Leppänen‘s Alder Ego. It is Okko Saastamoinen’s powerful group which opens the disc with a fresh take on the title track of the 2019 album Syrtti. Toomas Keski-Säntti switches to Fender Rhodes, and the spacey reverb creates an early 70s vibe. Piik comes from the same album, and at almost double the length its looping rhythms have space to grow more organically.
Alder Ego signal a change of pace and mood, taking their cue from the semi-abstract Blue Note classics of the late 60s. The soundstage may be a little murky, but it can’t diminish the powerful impact of Tikka’s wide interval leaps, speech-like slurs and fluid chromaticism. The hypnotic Mystery Room Nr. 6 is new, and once again it is Tikka who breaks free from the frontline. It’s a tantalising snapshot of what must have been a great show – I only wish I could hear the whole set.
I reviewed Timo Lassy & Teppo Mäkynen’s eponymous We Jazz debut album last year. Two of the tracks from that intriguing set, Fallow and Goldenrod, are considerably expanded here. The sharply detailed recording picks up the duo’s every minute gesture, and I particularly enjoyed the boppish lines of Goldenrod which twist and turn as Mäkynen steadily turns up the heat.
Also just out from We Jazz are a pair of 7” singles – yes, you read that correctly – from Koma Saxo and Mäkynen’s Stance Brothers. Petter Eldh has created an even heavier version of album track Koma Mate, while the B side is an original mix of source material by the Dutch producer Jameszoo. Mäkynen’s single presents three views of Resolution Blue, one of the more abstract tracks from the Mäkynen/Lassy duo. Reshaped as Afro-beat-cum-Ethio-jazz, Lounge Jazz and abstract electronica, it is nothing if not great fun. If vinyl is not your thing, all We Jazz releases are available as hi-res digital downloads too.
(1) Syrtti; Piik; (2) Cubism; Mystery Room Nr. 6; (3) Fallow; Goldenrod (39.14)
(1) OK:KO, Okko Saastamoinen (d) with Jarno Tikka (as, ts); Toomas Keski-Säntti (p, elp); Ilkka Uksila (vib); Mikael Saastamoinen (b). (2) Alder Ego, Tomi Nikku (t); Jarno Tikka (ts); Teemu Åkerblom (b); Joonas Leppänen (d). (3) Timo Lassy (ts); Teppo Mäkynen (d). All March-May 2019, Atheneum Art Museum, Helsinki.
We Jazz Records WJLP19