Jukka Eskola – Orquesta Bossa Nova
(Schema Records SCLP 463. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)
The Finnish trumpeter and flugelhorn player Jukka Eskola is probably best known for his work with his compatriots, the hard-bop Five Corners Quintet. Here he is leading his own combo in finely crafted new compositions and arrangements of bossa nova-inflected jazz with an engaging, breezy 1960s feel. The style of music may be retro but the musical forces playing it are strikingly fresh and novel, with Jukka Eskola’s sextet judiciously supplemented by a virtuoso string quartet.
Besides Jukka himself the line up consists of Petri Puolitaival on alto sax, alto flute and bass flute; Peter Engberg on guitar; Ville Herrala playing bass; Jaska Lukkarinen on drums and Teppo Mäkynen on piano and percussion. The Proton String Quartet features Ilkka Lehtonen and Teppo Ali-Mattila on violin, Maarit Holkko on viola and Veli-Matti Iljin on cello. On one track these first-rate musicians are joined by the talented Japanese singer Chihiro.
The feel of the album is immediately established by Bolly Beat, capturing the kind of mood which Francis Lai’s A Man and a Woman provided for millions of grooving lovers in that decade. The subtle, tasteful string section and robust guitar chords from Peter Engberg, artfully shadowed by Ville Herrala’s dexterous bass, provide a setting for Jukka Eskola’s rich, relaxed tone, soon followed by Petri “Pope” Puolitaival’s joyous alto. Puolitaival has previously played with the Ricky-Tick Big Band and the rock outfit Leningrad Cowboys. Here his effortlessly unfurling sax is reminiscent of Leo Wright.
In fact the sound overall calls to mind Gillespie’s early 1960s line-up, when Dizzy had both Wright and Lalo Schifrin in the band and played some classic breezing bossa nova — although Jukka’s trumpet throughout is more evocative of Freddie Hubbard than Dizzy Gillespie.
This affinity with Hubbard is particularly evident on Siam Square which has an exotica vibe tempered by an angular Arabic sound courtesy of Jukka Eskola and the string players. It’s a lovely lilting piece with Jukka’s wonderful seventies CTI-style playing woven into a composition which suggests a Henry Mancini masterpiece of a decade earlier.
On And the Days Passed By a complex and fragile introduction by the strings melts into to some outstanding bossa nova percussion by Teppo Mäkynen while Peter Engberg’s delicate plucking evokes master bossa guitarists such as Luis Bonfá.
The aptly named Tensions sees acerbic modernist string commentary alternating with bossa jollity and Brazilian percussion. It is again a feature for Peter Engberg on guitar as well as the string section, who contribute to the moody, chiming intro which opens into a fast paced, breezy and bright composition propelled by Teppo Mäkynen’s percussion. The track is notable for subtle use of atmospheric echo and fade-out effects and for the lovely interaction of Petri Puolitaival’s flute with the violin.
In Wien, the excellent string section really shows what it can do, establishing a wistful melancholy with the help of Teppo Mäkynen’s minimal, exquisitely judged piano and the gentle steady pulsing of Jaska Lukkarinen’s drums. When singer Chihiro comes in, the listener just melts. The song is like a post modern, 21st Century Girl From Ipanema, wounded, wiser and more nuanced — but just as likely to sweep you along with it. Jukka’s soft, meditative horn exploration here is a highpoint of an exceptional set.
This is a deceptive album, apparently laid-back but revealing an underlying intensity. It is instantly appealing, yet its bright, brisk cheerfulness is layered with a darker complexity which repays further serious listening. And the high standard of the playing is matched by the impressive quality of the writing. Teppo Mäkynen co-wrote the tunes with Jukka Eskola, except for From the Hot Afternoon by Milton Nascimento and Wien by Ville Leinonen, a well known Finnish songwriter. Teppo Mäkynen was also one of the three arrangers, along with Jukka Eskola and Jussi Lampela, a Finnish composer and arranger who has done considerable film and TV work and leads a jazz nonet.
Schema is an enterprising Italian record label which I’ve long admired for its excellent program of jazz reissues. Here it shows its strength in the field of new music. The analogue release of this album is a lovingly crafted piece of vinyl, with a beautifully silent run-in groove. It also comes complete with a free CD version.