Janne Saarinen, Ilkka Uksila, Joonas Turi, Joonas Leppänen: The Watercolors 

While the Helsinki-based quartet often seem true to the pastel implications of their name, they're also capable of bold gestures

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It’s often held that the key to watercolour painting is to let the white of the paper ground shine through. Substitute space for paper and you have the key to the strong appeal of this lucid and finely balanced quartet from Helsinki, who deliver a most attractive programme of all-original material on this, their debut release. 

The unusual combination of oboe and vibes could lead one to anticipate a session of delicate introspection and muted emotions. However, while there’s a clear chamber music ethos to the poetry on offer here, as in, e.g., the initial rubato interplay of vibes and arco bass on Meri, the music is more often up and assertive, swinging both strongly and intelligently. Sample Hybris & Nemesis, which has an exhilarating drum outing from Leppänen, the intriguingly floated and weighted Game Changer, or the delicious, simultaneous flow and poise of the concluding, somewhat MJQ-touched – and all-too-brief – Karuselli.

If you’ve enjoyed Paul McCandless’s work in Oregon or with Eberhard Weber, you will surely warm to Saarinen’s rhythmically diverse and consistent, near-haunting command of pitch, intonation and emotional projection. But everyone here is at the top of their game. Relish the dark, deep resonance of Tuuri’s pizzicato introduction to Little Starling or the finely worked interplay of the all-quartet introductory measures in Satta, which later features an extensive arco outing from Tuuri, caressed by Uksila’s exquisitely cast vibes. A lovely session.

Discography
Intro; Elysian Plain; Hybris & Nemesis; Meri; Sad Eyes; Game Changer; Little Starling; Sataa; Karuselli (46.21)
Saarinen (o); Uksila (vib); Tuuri (b); Leppänen (d). Kiikala, 22-23 July 2020.
AMP AT092