Antti Lötjönen Quintet East: Circus / Citadel

Finnish quintet including trumpeter Verneri Pohjola variously recalls Willem Breuker, ESP, Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman


I won’t reprise the preamble to my review of this stellar Finnish free-bop quintet’s self-titled debut. Suffice to say that it remains in heavy rotation on my playlist, and that this follow-up set has been as eagerly anticipated as it is welcome.

The unusual word pairing in the title was inspired by poet Paul Celan. Hinting at the precarious balance between order and chaos, the beautiful graphic score by Matti Nives on the sleeve provides further clues as to the music’s rather mercurial flow.

The album opens with vaudevillian humour straight out of the Willem Breuker playbook as the solemn theme of Circus/Citadel Part I is gradually overtaken by an all-enveloping mayhem. Part II places Lötjönen at the centre of an elastic groove, the horns sparring freely when not locked in tight unison. Part III finds staccato horns bouncing off Lötjönen and Riipa’s rhythmic maelstrom, Innanen eventually breaking cover with a searing bari solo before a passage of fiery collective improvisation takes the temperature beyond boiling point.

Ode To The Undone, by contrast, is a brooding ESP-era ballad, a sense of yearning and loss amplified by Innanen’s exotic woodwinds. Defenestration pivots on another curious stop-start rhythm, Kannaste’s granite-toned tenor somehow gaining traction before Lötjönen’s lyrical Haden-esque solo and Innanen’s wild Dolphy-esque flight. Innanen shines again on the Ornettish (for) Better People, combining with Pohjola to take its playful theme in all manner of zig-zagging trajectories.

The spacious intro to It Goes On harbours distant echoes of Triptykon-era Andersen and Vesala, Lötjönen and Riipa’s interplay one of the many ad-hoc duos and trios which make the album so gripping. A melancholic theme after Booker Little then emerges, and as the imperious Pohjola solos his way home I think we can safely say that ALQE have found their metaphorical sanctuary from life’s vicissitudes.

Circus/Citadel Parts I-III; Ode To The Undone; Defenestration; (for) Better People; It Goes On (37.18)
Lötjönen (b) Verneri Pohjola (t); Mikko Innanen (sps, as, bar, oboe); Jussi Kannaste (ts); Joonas Riipa (d). Gästerby, Finland, no date, c. 2023.
We Jazz Records WJCD49