Pohjola is a name with great symbolic power in Finland. It is the main place in the national epic poem Kalevala, and the surname of one of the country’s best known jazz musician families. With Aurora, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola is now creating quite a stir outside his homeland. In Finland his debut won the Emma award as leader, the Finnish Grammy, as “Best Jazz Album of 2009”.
It was clear that the trumpeter would go on to have a musical career from very early on. He was born in 1977, the son of national jazz legend Pekka Pohjola. From 1999 he studied jazz at the Sibelius Academy, one of Europe’s leading academies, and in 2004 he was named Young Artist of the Year at the Pori Jazz Festival. In that same year the Finnish jazz critics also declared him the Best Trumpeter and Musician of the Year.
Even though Aurora is Pohjola’s first work under his own name, he is no longer a newcomer. The Finn consciously gave his music time to mature and to find its own artistic expression. When ACT star Nils Landgren heard Pohjola’s debut album, he was immediately captivated. He promptly invited the trumpeter to the Berlin Jazz Festival 2010 and raved to his label boss, Siggi Loch, about this great talent. That Sweden and Norway are real “treasures troves” for first class jazz is far from a secret but its tranquil neighbouring country, covered by forests, lakes, deer and with only 5 million inhabitants was until now undiscovered. And this was how Verneri Pohjola came to be the first Finnish exclusive artist of ACT. A further fellow countryman will follow in spring 2011 – pianist Iiro Rantala who became well known with his Trio Töykeät.
Pohjola’s record is named after the Roman goddess of dawn and the album’s music is equally full of promise. Fascinating and rich in nuances, it is a mystical work with a dominantly gloomy atmosphere - Pohjola favours deeper tones and a meditative, airy sound. Hymn-like sound passages, seething expressiveness and emotional “high note playing” also often break through, free improvisation interchanges with the strictly composed and solo parts increase in the overall ensemble sound. Aurora may be experimental but memorable themes and a deep rooted groove give the music the necessary hold.
Pohjola cleverly combines sounds. A total of 15 musicians can be heard on the album, taking it in turns to create moods which are rich in colour, making each piece truly individual and the album itself a collection of musical short stories. At almost 12 minutes For Three always allows plenty of room for improvisation despite the compositional nature of its framework (always returning to its memorable theme which is accentuated by the strings). Here Pohjola shows himself to be a virtuosic and imaginative trumpeter. In Askisto the romantic sounding Meta4 string quartet forms a compelling contrast to the celesta, piano and bass. Meanwhile, the relaxed groove of Boxer Diesel ends in an expressive outbreak of sounds, whilst in contrast Spirit of S is meditative with a barely developing harmony, in which flute and trumpet take it in turns to fantasise in solo.
Aurora brings together the cream of up and coming Finnish jazz, including pianist Aki Rissanen and bassist Antti Lötjönen. Pohjola’s younger brother, Ilmari, is also featured on trombone. His famous father, Pekka, who died shortly after the recording in November 2008, also supported him on two tracks on the electric bass. Pohjola composed all the pieces himself with the exception of his arrangement of the famous Concierto De Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo, which became particularly famous on Miles Davis’ “Sketches of Spain”.
Regarding Miles Davis: he is Pohjola’s declared role model and, if you listen to Aurora, you can hear parallels to his 1957 masterpiece Birth of the Cool: a very individual sound aesthetic inspired by occidental art music is inherent in both, instruments are consciously put together according to tone colours and composed passages interchange with improvisation. At that time, Miles Davies enriched jazz with a previously unheard-of sound language, and Aurora is also a visionary, pioneering album with a great power of sound. Verneri Pohjola is, as trumpeter and composer, a great gain for European jazz. Now, at the very least, his name should also be remembered outside Finland.