Verneri Pohjola – Bullhorn
(Edition Records EDN1056. CD review by Mike Collins)
A dolorous tattoo from the toms seems to form part of the melody, blending with an intimate, breathy, buzzing tone from the trumpet on He sleeps, I keep Watch, a heart stoppingly melancholic, march-like ballad on Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola’s first release on Edition Records. There are plenty of lighter moments on this album, but the concentrated intensity of the moment seems to sum up both his distinctive voice (comparisons with Ambrose Akinmusire or Thomas Strønen are tempting) and instinct for a delicately crafted composition.
Bullhorn follows two widely praised recordings on the German ACT label. The critical excitement about those two previous albums (the first, Aurora earned a five star review in the Guardian) signalled that the leader’s writing and arranging is every bit as distinctive as his playing. Bullhorn certainly maintains the quality. It’s an affecting, often reflective and atmospheric set of originals, with plenty of momentum, bursts of energetic improvisation and constant interplay within the quartet featuring Aki Rissanen on piano, Antti Lötjönen on bass and Teppo Mäkynen on drums.
There are strong, patiently developed themes throughout. Another Day opens the set with boldly stated chords shifting through jagged intervals over a rolling groove and stately melody sculpted over the top. Girls of Costa Rica has a more urgent ticking pulse and is one of a number of pieces where the quartet is augmented this time by Jussi Kannaste’s tenor sax, adding drama to the more fragmentary motifs that prepare the ground for long accelerating solos. The title track Bullhorn has a funky percussive feel, a clattering, driving piano solo is a standout moment winding the band up to a climax with the harmonies again filled out this time with trombone from Ilmari Pohjola. Nanomachines is the most frenetic episode with a manic, odd time clatter from the drums setting the scene for some blistering soloing. After the looser impressionistic episode of Ouroboros and the gently dancing Cold Blooded, The End is Nigh closes the set with a flowing groove and a trademark gradually unfolding melodic line, with rich harmonies that return to lift solos from piano and trumpet into another gear.
This is powerful, emotion packed music that repays repeated listens. Pohjola’s very personal sound on trumpet, both intimate and occasionally austere combined with a un-clichéd melodic sense gives an added force to this fine album.