Ilmiliekki Quartet – Land Of Real Men(We Jazz, WJLP13. Review by Dick Hovenga(*))
With Land Of Real Men, Ilmilieki Quartet (meaning quartet ablaze), the Finnish band that started in 2002 and broke on to the international jazz scene straight away, are back. In the intervening years, the four members of the band have built substantial individual careers internationally. It is 13 years since they last recorded as quartet, so it’s great to have the band back together, and on such persuasive form.
Not that things have been particularly quiet around Ilmiliekki Quartet. Far from it. In 2009 and then in 2018 they released two albums in collaboration with violinist/singer Emma Salokoski, but their only two albums that they have release as a quartet were their debut album March Of The Alpha Males (2003), and then Take It With Me (2006). And yes, the players’ individual careers have prospered. Trumpeter Verneri Pohjola made a series of impressive albums on the UK label Edition Records, drummer Olavi Louhivuori played in Tomasz Stanko’s Scandinavian quintet, and also impressed with his band Oddarrang, pianist Tuomo Prättälä released a series of quirky singer-songwriter albums, and bassist Antti Lötjönen impressed with The Five Corners Quintet, Timo Lassy Band and 3TM.
Right from the first notes of their quirky version of Laurie Anderson’s Oh Superman to the last notes of album finale lonely lonely, Land Of The Real Men is a breathtaking jazz journey that will surely find its place among the best albums of the year.
The way they strike a balance between pure jazz and typically Scandinavian modesty, and between free jazz/improvisation and the lyrical/melodic is completely fascinating. The way in which they master their instruments as well as in their compositions look for space to let their idiosyncratic playing resound separately from each other, or to vie with each other to blow the tiles off the roof is truly extraordinary. In a word, overwhelming.
Through the course of eight compositions, everything that makes this band and the individual musicians so great comes back to life. Listen to a composition like Singharat STI 1 or afterimage and its beauty will blow you away.
And listen to the second side of the album with Il Maileki and Ravelogue. How splendidly modest the quartet can make itself. There is miraculously beautiful playing especially from Pohjola: what a trumpet hero he has become over the years, and great playing from Prättälä which gives self-restraint a new dimension.
And what a superb composition the title track is. As soon as it starts, you start to imagine how it will sound live. And as the track unfolds in style and groove-laden, it all just really works. What a world-class track! And then follows a beautifully subdued opening to a track which has a really nice way of keeping momentum and [dwars uitlopend], lonely lonely, which once again has great playing by Pohjola. It is the perfect closer.
It’s good that the We Jazz label, active on many fronts, has released this new album so it can get all the worldwide attention it deserves. Land Of Real Men is jazz just as we like it, but unfortunately hear far too little. Revitalising, invigorating, energetic, adventurous, free and full of both emotion and craftsmanship. Land Of The Real Men is a gem of a record!
Oh, and by the way, the beautiful double vinyl edition is the one to have!
(*)LINK: Dick Hovenga’s original review appeared on Written in Music in Dutch