Olli Ahvenlahti: Mirror Mirror

The one-time Eurovision conductor in fact produced high-quality fusion in the 1970s and has recently returned to the style in good form

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The rehabilitation of 70s crossover jazz has created unexpected opportunities for survivors of this once maligned period. Finnish pianist-composer Olli Ahvenlahti is a case in point, mid-70s classics like Bandstand and The Poet and his work with Eero Koivistoinen and the UMO Jazz Orchestra being highly sought after by rare-groove connoisseurs.

It’s unfortunate that his role as conductor of Finland’s Eurovision Orchestra in the 1990s still figures so prominently in his bio, but when Helsinki’s WeJazz Records released Thinking, Whistling in 2017, the first recording under his own name for 31 years, it heralded an unlikely return to form.

Featuring some of Finland’s most talented young post-bop stylists, Mirror Mirror is born of the 75-year-old Ahvenlahti’s bittersweet hope to record one last great record. All of the compositions bear his authentic watermark, and with each player pouring their soul into the music it results in what is arguably some of the most exciting music of his career.

The title track jumps straight into the groove, Eskola’s solo tipping a nod to CTI-era Hubbard. The leader is in great form on Paint It Blue, his soulful Rhodes preceding a thrilling exchange of choruses between Rautio and Eskola. The mellow For Dizzy And Lionel salutes two of the giants that Ahvenlahti encountered early in his career, the sophisticated tone poetry of A House In Montagnola and playful Rhythm And Rhymes betray deeper affinities with Hancock, and the Opening Game is pure jazz-funk gold.

The set closes in a more introspective vein with the endlessly melodic Redwood Story and Bedtime Snack, creating a sense of hesitance as to what might lie ahead. Ahvenlahti clearly has lots more to give, and I can only hope that Mirror Mirror is not his final swan-song.

Discography
Mirror Mirror; Paint It Blue; For Dizzy And Lionel; A House In Montagnola; The Opening Game; Rhythm And Rhymes; The Redwood Story; Bedtime Snack (43.24)
Ahvenlahti (elp, kyb) with Joonatan Rautio (ts); Jukka Eskola (t, flh); Ville Herrala (elb); Jaska Lukkarinen (d). Söderkulla, Finland, September and October 2023.
WeJazz Records WJLP/CD 75