Having first played with Black Motor in 2009, as a guest at the trio’s cafe residency in hometown Tampere, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola once again joined forces with Sami Sippola (saxophones), Ville Rauhala (double bass) and Simo Laihonen (drums) a year later, to record this album.
Rubidium, on the Finnish TUM label, is long at 71:54. Five of its compositions are by either Pohjola or Rauhala, but the two opening tracks are both older: an uncredited Russian waltz, captured in a performance rich with the patina of its social history; and an eminently jazzy take on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Song of India”, which was apparently inspired by a version recorded in the 40s by the American organist Korla Pandit, the ‘Godfather of Exotica’.
The most strikingly evident referent on the bulk of the material, however is the deep, passionate vibrato of primal free jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler. Ayler’s influence can be heard in the frontline’s burred twists on gospel inflections, and the way the quartet’s music fuses the pathos of dirge time with a heightened melodic sensibility. While Rauhala keeps up a steady contrabass thrum, something like a more liquid take on the plummy, elastic euphony of Jimmy Garrison, Laihonen’s drumming keeps open time.
On Rubidium’s title track, sax and trumpet mesh with brio. Pohjola and Black Motor’s throaty Sippola are wonderfully well matched, a teaming as lusty as Mostly Other People Do The Killing‘s Evans and Irabagon, though the more sombre Black Motor mostly make do without MOPDTK’s antic extroversion: the one exception is “Sax O-Phun”, which does, briefly, tumble into novelty; originally a 30s hit for the “laughing saxophone” of Josef Kaartinen.
The Black Motor aesthetic is described in TUM’s typically extensive booklet notes as “proletarian”, and there’s something in that. This isn’t a showy, pyrotechnic group; rather, a close affinity of sonic craftsmen. The one time I’ve caught the group live, their music struck me as cool and opaque (though I thought Sippola imparted some Archie Shepp-like pungency). They follow “Sax-O-Phun” in the opaque vein, with a version of Edward Vesala’s gorgeous, soulfully deep “Kynnyspuulla”, which is carried mostly by Rauhala.
Rauhala’s rhythm partner, Laihonen gets to break a sweat on the next and final track, Pohjola’s “The Last Janitsar”, which was conceived as a concerto for Vesala and Max Roach.
London Jazz Festival 2012: AKODE, Black Motor, Kuára, Rakka.
Wadada Leo Smith & TUMO – Occupy the World. A TUM Label Roundup, part 2 (w/ Verneri Pohjola).
Mikko Innanen with William Parker and Andrew Cyrille – Song for a New Decade.