Verneri Pohjola matches beauty with bullishness at The Forge

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Were it not for a smattering of concert-goers on the front row and a handful more who slunk in midway through the first number, ducking their heads beneath the bank of high-spec video cameras at the back of the room, the Forge in Camden would have felt like the meeting place of an exclusive club. Label executives, artists and jazz industry insiders were out in force and if it sounds like we were all privy to a secret that’s because we were. It’s a secret called Bullhorn, a new album by Finnish trumpeter Verneri Pohjola and, on the evidence of last night, it’s a secret you’ll want to be in on.

Pohjola’s first release on the Edition Records label, Bullhorn isn’t out until February, but that didn’t stop the trumpeter and his quartet, completed by pianist Aki Rissanen, bassist Antti Lötjönen and drummer Teppo Mäkynen, from playing it back to back as part of a preview and live recording that made it clear just what all the fuss was about. In part it’s the strength of Pohjola’s melodies; the tropical lilt of ‘Girls from Costa Rica’; ‘Another Day’, a gently swinging waltz with a soaring refrain; ‘Bullhorn’ and ‘The End is Nigh’ with their soulful, folkloric leanings; and the gleeful chaos of ‘Nano Machines’, a schizophrenic burner that was among the highlights of the second set. But there was more to it than that. Interspersed between numbers were poignant improvisations, the first – and strongest – of which saw the trumpeter playing softly into the piano, stirring up a celestial chorus of overtones, to a backdrop of rattles and textural kit playing.

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There were snatches of clever orchestration too, from stops and catches to precipitous drops in dynamic and riffs that emerged seamlessly from soloistic flights. And then, of course, there was Pohjola’s captivating, kaleidoscopic sound. A sandpaper rasp at one extreme, airy and flute-like at the other, it allowed his solos to be both vulnerable and bullish, adding new colours to the set. If anything was lacking, it was interplay with the rhythm section. At times it felt as if they were playing for, rather than with, Pohjola, leading to the odd one-sided exchange and a few wandering moments during passages of collective improvisation. But I’m splitting hairs. The secret’s out and if Bullhorn sounds this good on record, come February, it’ll be a worse kept secret still.

– Thomas Rees

– Photos by Aga Tomaszek

@ThomasNRees