Uusi Aika: Uusi Aika

Finnish lineup including shakahachi and zither seems to follow the meditative Nordic stereotype but evinces a special authenticity

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Not so much a production line as an artisanal workshop, Helsinki’s We Jazz Records is nevertheless releasing a constant stream of exciting new music. Amongst the latest batch is the debut recording of the group Uusi Aika, relative unknowns outside of Finland, and they play some of the most profoundly meditative jazz I’ve heard for some time.

The group’s name describes the historical period after the Middle Ages, and their brooding, tenebrous music feels very much connected to the ancient forest. They cite the influence of Japanese sound aesthetics, New Age music, early 20th century art music and a line of jazz saxophonists from Lester Young to Jan Garbarek, but I also hear a connection to the more introspective side of Edward Vesala’s Sound & Fury.

Multi-instrumentalist Otto Eskelinen (The Mystic Revelation of Teppo Repo, Astro Can Caravan) is the group’s principal voice, and his taut, lyrical tenor on Gudrid immediately grabbed my attention. It begins as a free ballad before Varis’s muscular bass settles into a groove and the group steer their way through a series of folkish melodic themes. Eskelinen shifts to shakuhachi for the enigmatic Kaksi Puuta, the group’s broad timbral palette as intriguing as the piece’s delicately unspooling form.

Ajelehtivat Pilvet is another sublimely spacious ballad, Sarjasto’s grainy piano perhaps intentionally harking back to the classic recordings of the 30s. The atmospheric title track summons images of a wintry sunrise, while the tense free interactions of Lumikenkä harbour latent menace. Distances again introduces a faint air of nostalgia, while Varis’s bass on the closing track Henget, where Mentu’s zither adds a somewhat psychedelic twist, recalls Cecil McBee’s seminal contribution to Alice Coltrane’s Journey Into Satchidananda.

A refreshingly authentic voice and a wonderful antidote to much of the ersatz spiritual jazz which is currently in vogue, Uusi Aika are the genuine article.

Discography
Gudrid; Kaksi Puuta; Ajelehtivat Pilvet; Uusi Aika; Lumikenkä; Distances; Henget (44.05)
Otto Eskelinen (ts, as, cl, p, v, shakuhachi); Johannes Sarjasto (p, kyb, acc, v): Tapani Varis (b, v);  Amanda Blomqvist (d, pc, v); Antero Mentu (zither) on 7; Juho Luukkainen (elec) on 7. Helsinki, spring 2021.
We Jazz Records WJLP/CD 42