REVIEW: Timo Lassy at Pizza Express Pheasantry

Saxophonist Timo Lassy, Photo credit: Andrew Cartmel


Timo Lassy
(Pizza Express Pheasantry, August 10th 2015. Review by Andrew Cartmel)


We’re in an elegant club under the King’s Road on a summer night. One of Finland’s leading saxophonists Timo Lassy and his quintet are in town playing a gig to celebrate the release of Lassy’s new album Love Bullet (Reviewed). Natty in suits and ties, four dapper young men play chugging percussion, drums and Wurlitzer organ with sparse, tactful double bass. It’s the track Green Pepper Strut from the album, and the sound is groovy and cheering. From the shadows of the club Timo Lassy walks to join them, playing his battle-scarred tenor.

Mounting the stage, Lassy pours smooth, mellow, soulful sound into a vintage RCA microphone, accompanied by bell-like buoyant chords from the Wurlitzer of Georgios Kontrafouris. Timo Lassy blows fat and funky, playing long, lucid, gossipy lines. This is user-friendly bebop, suave soul jazz. Abdissa Assefa’s tom-toms and Ville Pynssi’s neat stick work on the rims of the drums make for a retro R&B odyssey — hip and happy as hell.

Waltz Unsolved is an opportunity for weightless ballad playing by Timo Lassy, delicate drumming from Pynssi and inventive tropical percussion from Assefa. Lassy’s tone broadens and deepens, swelling richly. Georgios Kontrafouris’s Wurlitzer is thoughtful, coming at the theme from all angles. Lassy plays a romantic rhapsody then picks up speed, propelled by Ville Herrala’s bass. Lassy’s relaxed technique makes even the fastest passages seem unhurried. Playing at blinding speed he decorates the melody with high keening passages and low, deep utterances.

Love Bullet is a potent change of pace, slow and slinky with Timo Lassy’s insinuating sax both tender and assertive, seductively climbing the staircase built for him by Kontrafouris and the rest of the rhythm section. The tenor, and indeed the whole quintet, are taking a low, dirty, flirting tone. This is a big city cat exploring the tenement he knows so well. The superb but self-effacing Ville Herrala really comes into his own now, and shows his love for Jimmy Blanton, playing his bass with a bow so that it begins to sing. The bowed strings conjure a voice that is giddy and intoxicating — intoxicated, too. A well-oiled raconteur at your elbow in a bar, breathing whisky fumes on you. Abdissa Assefa is excelling on Latin percussion and Timo Lassy plays in a friendly frenzy, falling into a dialogue with Georgios Kontrafouris’s Wurlitzer. They each try and top the other in a trash-talk contest. The Wurlitzer catches fire, setting off the whole band on a high speed chase. Ville Pynssi plays teasing time changes in an intricate solo of dazzling density, full of muscle and mischief.

Stay Close commences with Kontrafouris on Wurlitzer, skipping and scaling, summoning up electronic whoops and bubbles and then bluesy chimes as Ville Herrala strides in on bass and Ville Pynssi joins with brushes. massively widening the scope of the tune’s plangent blues excursion. It’s all soulful, warm and quite wonderful. Then Timo Lassy returns like a conquering hero to turn it into a love song.

In a break, one of the women in the audience approached the band and said, “You’re wicked, just wicked.” And she meant it in the best possible way. And she was right.

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