By Dan McClenaghan
August 6, 2015
When the subject of Finnish jazz is mentioned, the names Iro Haarla (piano), Vernie Pohjola (trumpet), Juhani Aaltonenen (saxophone) and Heikki Sarmanto could get tossed about as four from Finland who are producing superb recordings on TUM Records. The “Finnish sound” tends toward a reflective and often melancholy minor key mode, with smoldering freedom that at times flashes into roaring flame.
Chicago’s Juli Wood—who plays multiple reeds, but sticks to the tenor saxophone here—explores her Finnish heritage on Synkka Metsa, a collection of Finnish folk songs. Inspired by trumpeter Art Farmer‘s Scandinavian foray, To Sweden with Love (Atlantic Records, 1964), that featured quartet with Jim Hall on guitar, Wood employes her own quartet here, with bassist Clark Sommers sitting in on bass, Alejandro Urzagaste on guitar and Mike Schlick on drums. Wood and her cohorts explore—with a cool restraint and crystalline clarity—the dark forest (the English translation of “Synkka Metsa”) of Finnish Folk themes. The music evokes a shadowy world of deep greens and cold, moist earth, a place of thick and resilient mosses and icy water dripping from high branches denuded of leaves with the coming of the long winter.
Wood’s quartet is superb, worthy of a very cool battle of the bands with Art Farmer’s To Sweden With Love group. Urgaste’s guitar—stretched-out lines switching to sharp single notes and resonant metallic chords—adds an elasticity to the sound. Mike Schlick’s distinctive drum work shifts from rhythmic subtlety to hissing, wind-in-the-boughs cymbal drones. Bassist Sommers bass thrums under the low branches with with perfect foundation. And Juli Wood: she draws a tone from her tenor that is woody and folkloric, fronting a collective sound that is mysterious and often spooky on the down tempos, passionate and powerful on the faster tunes.
An outstanding set with a compellingly beautiful cohesion.