Vigorous. That’s the first adjective that came to mind, when I first listened to the Pepa Päivinen Quartet’s new album. After a couple of listens more defining terms started to drop like rain: imaginative, hungry, intense, free, exciting.
North Pipe continues onwards from the same team’s (Pepa Päivinen: saxes, bass clarinet, flutes; Timo Kämäräinen: guitars; Ville Huolman: basses; Mikko Hassinen: drums) debut album (Tiram Num, 2005). It brings to mind the jazz LP’s of the 60’s/70’s turning, when nobody thought of target groups and musicians explored new territories with gusto and no hang-ups.
Having said that I hasten to add that by no means is this a retro or, God forbid, a nostalgic affair. If Päivinen’s trio favoured an acoustic, a tad more improvised and often rather ethereal setting, then the more electrical quartet hugs pretty much everything that has happened in jazz during Pepa’s fifty years plus on this earth.
North Pipe offers wild freak-outs, tender and lyrical moments, some quirky experimenting, solid structures, a dash of psychedelia, the melancholic longing of Finnish folk music and even some more exotic ethnic hues. At times it gets rather funky, even though they never play actual funk. Likewise there’s a strong compositional feel in the material – courtesy of the leader and Hassinen, who has kept the tempo fresh in the mighty UMO big band as well as in several different small combos – while an atmosphere of fearless adventure lingers over the playing. North Pipe delivers endlessly new visions, mush like a kaleidoscope when you turn it.
The solid proof of the band’s – and this is truly a Band as opposed to a project – maturity is the fact that one never gets a feeling of mish mash, when listening to the record. The chemistry or the collective persona of the band is so strong that it binds the many paths of the music and the ever-changing tempo policy into a natural whole.
Partly the awesome amount of different hues follows from Pepa blowing (on separate tracks) a tenor, a baritone, a soprano and a bass clarinet plus both regular and ethnic flutes. Huolman, who has done excellent work in the UMO and the small combos of saxophonist Jukka Perko, uses both a double bass and an electric bass guitar. Coming from a classical background, Juho Laitinen brings another dimension to three tracks with his cello. So much so that he is in great danger of becoming a permanent member of the band.
Being a highly valued veteran of guitar wizard Jukka Tolonen’s band, the late drummer/composer Edward Vesala’s legendary Sound & Fury and the UMO big band, plus having navigated successfully in the conceptual jungle of Anthony Braxton and the Saxperiment with three other saxophonists, Pepa is well-known both in Finnish and international jazz circles for his talent and XL-vision, but still there’s no denying that he has got new kick into his playing, while sharing the solo space with the young lion Kämäräinen (30).
The latter has done good work in the rock-orientated Ismo Alanko Säätiö and on his eclectic solo albums. Here he soars like an eagle. Timo’s robust and totally liberated guitar-tripping is inspired and uplifting, to say the least. I can’t recall ever having heard such wild slide guitar playing, or actually any kind of slide playing, in jazz, as he displays here. Surprises stimulate, in jazz, too. This jazz is very much alive! Jussi Niemi