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Monday, Dec 05 2011 | 15:56 Buy this now at GoodToGo (B2B)

Kerkko KoskinenKerkko Koskinen is an awarded Finnish composer, who has previously worked with the chart-topping leftfield pop ensemble Ultra Bra. Koskinen has always been intrigued by big orchestras and his first recording for Ricky-Tick, “Agatha” was a logical step towards this direction. “Agatha” has influences from Lalo Schifrin, Gil Evans and Igor Stravinsky but the result sounds very much like certain Mr. Kerkko Koskinen.

Koskinen recently teamed up with The Five Corners Quintet, when he composed and arranged the score for the National Theater’s play “Othello”. The result brings to mind Miles Davis and his score for the French crime movie “Lift To The Scaffold” (1958). Jazz critic Phil Johnson described Davis’ score as “the loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear, and the model for sad-core music ever since. Hear it and weep”. That’s pretty much the case with Koskinen’s “Othello” too. Powerful, yet delicate and touching jazz “noir”.

And he is the author behind one of the brightest jazz highlights of 2011, “Trains & Letters”. The latest release on Helsinki’s Ricky-Tick Records, the album finds Koskinen’s music interpreted by a big band consisting entirely of Finnish jazz hard-hitters. The music itself is a remarkable combination of third stream-ish elements and hard-cooking soul jazz communicated in a musical language not unlike that of 1950’s/60’s modern jazz greats such as Charles Mingus.

Kerkko Koskinen’s previous Ricky-Tick catalogue includes two critically acclaimed releases, 2007’s big band LP “Agatha”, and the “Othello” soundtrack EP, recorded with The Five Corners Quintet in 2009. A key figure in the Finnish pop music circles, Koskinen’s jazz has never been deeper and more to the point than on “Trains & Letters”.

The sound scapes on “Trains & Letters” are rich, varied and also surprising on occasion. Koskinen himself plays the harpsichord to add a classical feel to the overall sound. The percussion unit brings a steaming swing to the operation, whereas the vibraphone adds the elements of cool clarity and melodic innovation to the scheme. Needless to say, the horn section is also nothing to sneeze at, including the likes of Timo Lassy and Jukka Eskola.

Another character deserving extra credentials is Teppo “Teddy Rok” Mäkynen, manning the all-important drums plus percussion unit and also occupying the producer’s seat. The extraordinary drummer of The Five Corners Quintet and the mastermind behind another current Ricky-Tick hit, Jo Stance, is on top form once again, bringing home Koskinen’s jazz train, and offering what the pop-savvy composer has referred to as “jazz ensurance” regarding the “Trains & Letters” recording project.

Talking about The Five Corners Quintet, the biggest success story in Finnish jazz to date, the ensemble heard on this album in fact includes four out of the five members of the live quintet. The fourth one in addition to Mäkynen, Lassy and Eskola is bass man Antti Lötjönen, one of the most sought-after musicians in the Finnish jazz scene. Additional links to the Ricky-Tick Big Band also exist, namely in Juho Viljanen on bass tombone and Ari Jokelainen in alto sax. The band swings effortlessly live in studio, as witnessed in the takes recorded over four sessions.

A unique feature of the album are the two letters written by playwrite Anna Viitala and poet Jukka Viikilä. Other key aspects of the album include things like modernism, blues, night-time city scenes, and the overall concept of movement.

Whether talking Finnish jazz or the genre at large, you’d be hard-pressed to try and find a more coherent and full-bodied big band album in 2011.

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