Arctic Blues – Eero Koivistoinen and the UMO Jazz Orchestra


Stretching back to 1967 over 30 albums and with an output as composer, arranger, conductor, producer and educator, Eero Koivistoinen is a name I have never come across. With diverse works such as literary records of poetry, ballet and music as well as hip-hop influenced work in the mid 2000’s his output is esoteric, Nordic in sensibility and utterly enjoyable to listen to. Having a recording break since 2006, this album is aimed at something cool and blues-based in the modern big band style, and it absolutely delivers. Rip roaring solo work, tight arrangements, subtle textures and use of enough extended chords, syncopations and awkward timings to please the most hardened jazz heads.

On this album, he provides improvisational space to an ensemble all able to hold their own as soloists in their own right – trumpet on the composition ‘Moz’ and the guitar work on the title track are just two standout moments which pack the album. Each soloist takes the time to develop nicely into the space given and are always accompanied with grace and sensitivity. Standout solo work on ‘Picture in 3 Colours’ shows a real sense of mature playing, deftly moving around the instrument and around the chords and arrangement demonstrating why this man has such a strong output.

The slow pieces, such as ‘Relations’, ‘Longing’, ‘Terango’, ‘Rose In A Valley’ and ‘Ruby My Dear’ often settle in a familiar big band style, but from time to time sound like a much smaller, intimate ensemble and never failing to deliver something packed with emotion and tender playing from all.

The faster pieces that take up the remainder of the album really let the ensemble show their tight playing and improvisational chops throughout. Balance of big bands can often fall apart during louder, faster passages but everyone sits together aurally, a testament to the rehearsal and composition of the pieces.

The use of percussion in pieces like ‘Oshumare’ and ‘Long Way From Home’ could have been brought to the fore a touch more as they feel like a secondary presence in the mix, but this is really nit-picking on a very nicely produced album. The lush band sound really does pop out of the speakers with clarity and balance.

Some of the more challenging compositions for the listener, such as ‘’ (live) and ‘Hallanvaara’ are a real test for the soloists (what a pianist!) as well as the ensemble, to hold coherence in free time sections and so on, but you never feel like they are anything other than extremely comfortable in the pieces. ‘Nordisk samarbete’ (live) creates a tasty soundscape and feels so fresh and modern it made me want to move house on to the set of ‘Mammon’.

When the band hit the funk end of the Jazz spectrum on tracks like ‘Straight Up’ and ‘Northern Dimension’ they feel equally at home, sitting nicely on grooves somewhere in between the Brecker Brothers and Portico Quartet. I’d defy anyone not to enjoy this album and end up nodding along to each track, pulling your best ‘stink-face’ as you listen.

Interestingly, the penultimate track ‘Halling’ heralds us with a Celtic theme, which feels a little out of place at first, but many jazz historians will point to Celtic influence and origin in jazz and after the first few phrases, your ear takes the piece nicely into context with the rest of this album.

Eero clearly gets a lot out of the ensemble and those around him and creates this feeling of positive enthusiasm for the compositions, often hard to do with modern approaches to jazz. A nice mix of live and studio with the production giving us a great balance, helps the album sit together coherently and kudos to the soloists for really producing some top notch work.

The double album is due out on the 25th November and if your bag is big band or modern jazz with a serious vintage, then I would recommend getting your hands on a copy of this asap.

Keith Nicholson

Keith Nicholson
I'm a trumpet player and fan of all kinds of music but jazz and classical are my bae.

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