The TUM label is superb advocacy for Finnish improvised music, in part thanks to projects that match Finnish artists with established international masters. Witness, for example, the 2013 album Occupy the World by Wadada Leo Smith and TUMO, an orchestra of improvisers from Finland and the Nordic region, including Finnish saxophonist Mikko Innanen.
Of Innanen’s two previous dates for TUM as group leader, the first, Paa-da-pap (2007), featured an all-Finnish quartet, while the second, Clustrophy (2009), was pan-European. Now, on Song for a New Decade, he’s heard in the intimate company of two major players in American music, double bassist William Parker and drummer Andrew Cyrille.
Parker, now a master musician and bandleader in his own right, first came to public attention with pianist Cecil Taylor, and went on to notable collaborations with heavyweight saxophonists David S. Ware and Peter Brötzmann. When he came up through the 70s New York loft jazz scene Cyrille was already a senior figure, having begun his own ten year stint with the Cecil Taylor unit in 1964, when Parker was just twelve, fourteen years before Innanen was born.
Of the two sets comprising the 2CD Song for a New Decade, the first, a 2010 New York studio session, focuses primarily on compositions by Innanen, while the second, recorded in 2012, is a six-part live improvisation by the duo of Innanen and Cyrille.
On the first disc, Innanen’s alto and Parker’s bowed bass slide viscously into the opening title piece, only for the alto’s initial tartness to assume a grizzled roughness as Parker (now plucking) and Cyrille work up a rugged freeform pulse. The End is a Beginning is more spacious, with Innanen sounding rather like Ornette Coleman in ballad mode, albeit more biddable. Cyrille, using mallets, and Parker, deftly plucking, play with effortless creativity, and the piece is so beautifully unforced that Innanen’s subtle licks of overblown dissonance as he develops his lines are a surprisingly authoritative touch.
Karl’s Castle is bouncy, directional free bop. Cyrille makes snappy with snare and cymbals while Parker emphasises pulse and Innanen, on baritone now, plays serried riffs. Parker plays a tight, pithy solo, and also leads the way into the set’s solo fully improvised performance, “Look for the Red Door”. Innanen has changed reeds again, and his playing Indian Clarinet gives this sinuous, serpentine piece an exoticism that Parker occasionally reinforces with sintir-like bass sounds, while Cyrille lays down a rolling groove with mallets.
Innanen doesn’t fight shy of established idioms. “A Morning, a Day, a Night”, for instance, is a pretty straightforward blues, but the insouciance with which the trio break it down, freeing a superb slithery bowed bass solo and serial percussive micro-breaks, is just lovely. Cyrille gets a bigger break mere seconds into “See You at 103”, a sprightly piece with bounce, which Innanen works up with postbop licks.
“Blue in Nublu” is another blues, and wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Blue Note’s more progressive sessions of the ‘new thing’ era. It’s spacious and concise, with just the right balance of open form and rhythm feel. “Small and Big Steps” is more Impulse! (or, as Innanen says, a bit like Anton Carlos Jobim, “but not quite”), with an intro founded on serial elided bow strokes and parallel smears of alto, breaking from pattern into vigorous, acerbic freestyle, stretching the moment.
Innanen says, in his album notes, that while the pieces for the 2010 session were all written with Parker and Cyrille in mind, and mostly had identifiable forms, predetermined chord changes or, in the case of “Blue in Nublu”, even lyrics, those for the 2012 date were guided by “no rules or other preconceived plans”.
These six duo improvisations are actually indexed parts of a continuous performance, titled collectively Songs for this Decade. Individually named “Song 1”, “Song 2”, etc., each actually has its distinctive character.
While “Song 1” is vigorously probing and exploratory, “Song 2” is more relaxed. It has a primitive tribal feel, with Innanen initially playing harsh, chanter-style licks on alto, while Cyrille patterns light rhythms, mostly from rim shots. Innanen then works up a fiery saxophone solo, which yields to Cyrille’s quiet pulse of toms and rattle of bells.
Cyrille is even more subtle on toms behind Innanen’s singsong clarinet on “Song 3”, but he gets to solo more expansively at the start of “Song 4”. This and “Song 5”, which jointly stretch to nearly 25 minutes (with pause at the segue), see Innanen digging more volubly into free sax mode. His conception, however, is always thoughtful and reflective.
Cyrille occasionally assumes a supporting role, but he’s never submissive. Nine minutes into “Song 4”, having been very low key, he picks up Innanen on a surge of energy only to deposit him again seconds later in near silence. “Song 5” itself begins with minimal percussion, and Innanen playing first a Uilleann chanter, then a nose flute. Switching to alto, he gradually shucks off any sense of playful primitivism as Cyrille works up an increasingly insistent and pugnacious full-kit rhythm.
The concluding “Song 6” is loose-limbed but forthright, with Innanen sound freely loquacious on baritone and Cyrille fully rhythmic, brisk and crisp.
Innanen acknowledges that he was “excited and a bit nervous” in anticipation of his session with Parker and Cyrille, but Song for a New Decade is testament to his confidence and stylistic maturity. He couldn’t wish for a better showcase for his eclecticism or adaptability. And in their readiness to engage with the younger artist, Parker and Cyrille demonstrate how they’ve stayed so vital for so long at the top of their game.
Mikko Innanen alto and baritone saxophones, Indian clarinet, Uilleann chanter, nose flute, whistles, percussion; Andrew Cyrille drums; William Parker double bass (CD 1 only).
Wadada Leo Smith and TUMO – Occupy the World.
David S. Ware, Cooper-Moore, William Parker, Muhammad Ali – Planetary Unknown.
Perelman, Shipp, Parker, Cleaver – Serendipity.
Kalle Kalima and K-18 – Out to Lynch.
Buy Song for a New Decade direct from TUM Records.