CD Review: Alexi Tuomarila Trio - Seven Hills


Alexi Tuomarila Trio - Seven Hills
(Edition Records EDN1041. CD Review by Adrian Pallant)


Moving to a new home at Edition Records, Finnish-born pianist Alexi Tuomarila and his trio have released Seven Hills, an engaging collection of nine jazz originals by the pianist himself, by Mats Eilertsen (double bass) and Olavi Louhivuori (drums) – plus guest appearances by guitarist and album engineer André Fernandes.

Lauded in his early career by Brad Mehldau, Tuomarila has a number of album credits to his name over the past decade including his fine 2003 quartet album ’02′, as well as recording and touring with Olavi Louhivuori as part of Tomasz Stanko’s acclaimed quintet (Dark Eyes, ECM, 2009). Yet this is only the second release from his piano trio (following 2006′s Constellation). Recorded in Lisbon – Portugal’s capital ‘city of seven hills’ – it finds Alexi and his colleagues on sparkling form.

Tuomarila’s pianistic prowess displays crystalline agility, particularly in his top-end soloing, exuding an assuredness which commands attention. Matt Eilertsen, a characteristically bold bassist, pliantly pulls the strings with great solidity and poise, also capable of delivering the most tender, lyrical melodies. And, similarly, as demonstrated in the leading of his own group (Oddarrang), Olavi Louhivouri has a distinctive, solid approach to his drumming, generating complex, clattering patterns, but also able to ‘whisper’ with measured softness. Together, they communicate impressive rapport to produce a vibrant and full sound.

The trio are masters of the gear change. The simple folksong-like melody of title track Seven Hills (vocal line and words easily imaginable) switches effectively into a bubbling, pulsating 7/8 groove; Tuomarila seemingly unstoppable in his runs; bass and drums bristling with energy – just wonderful at high volume. Prologue introduces the overdriven, sustained guitar improvisations of André Fernandes (hints of late 70s McLaughlin), seamlessly augmenting the three, again with an up-tempo rhythmic shift halfway through. Eilertsen’s bass tugs at the heart strings in the wistful Jibeinia, as well as in Pearl, who’s heavy, chordal beginnings develop into another lively and spirited showcase for Tuomarila’s ‘high wire act’.

Visitor G brings four minutes of pure Monk-like brilliance and eccentricity – both pacey and spiky, the trio clearly relish its freedom, seemingly encouraging each other to push the creativity, whilst very definitely keeping communication lines open. In contrast, the romanticism of Bill Evans (or Nikki Iles) inhabits Miss, a diminutive piano-led piece of near perfection, Louhivuori disclosing the delicate, shimmering side of his persona. André Fernandes rejoins the line-up on Ceremony, an otherwise confident closing anthem whose central section becomes captivatingly tense with the feature of Fernandes’ echoic, penetrating guitar improvisations.

It’s easy to shower the Alexi Tuomarila Trio with plaudits as, once you get inside what they’re actually achieving here, both technically and creatively, it truly is a tour de force. On one level, wholly accessible jazz – but looking through the ‘magic eye’ veil, a third dimension reveals its deeper wonder and craftsmanship.

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