The relationship between jazz and folk is a longstanding one. Countless improvising musicians have used ‘roots’ music as an important source material throughout history, with the blues, a deeply expressive form, being an obvious example. Yet there are many other vocabularies to consider from far beyond the shores of America, which makes it entirely logical that saxophonist Otto Eskelinen creates songs for his band Uusi Aika in the way he does.
Uusi Aika is an album that vividly suggests the imprint of traditional music that could be from various parts of the worlds, possibly Europe or the Far East, while the arrangements and performance point to a strong free improviser’s sensibility. There is a pleasing looseness of frameworks around the strong melodic core of the set, and in drummer Amanda Blomqvist, double bassist Tapani Varis and pianist Johannes Sarjasto Eseklinen has partners who are as restrained as they are decisive, thus creating a broad dynamic and textural range. Tempos are down. Space is at a premium. Yet there is a mercurial quality in Eskelinen’s themes and solos that place him in a long lineage of artists who move seamlessly from fiery turbulence to peaceful indolence, be it Juhani Aaltonen, Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler or Jan Garbarek.
The importance of ‘old’ instruments and Japanese aesthetics can be heard explicitly in the focused use of the shakuhachi flute, but what is arguably most engaging is the overall aural world presented, which at times is artfuly lo-fi and uncluttered. The details stand out, be it the keening synthesizer countermelody of ‘Gudrid’ or the wavering prepared piano and purring timpani sticks of ‘Distances’. These songs are just a few highlights from what is a consistently strong album, which makes a case for Eskelinen as a composer and improviser with a distinct vision and adequately disciplined technique to fulfill it.
Uusi Aika – Uusi Aika
(We Jazz, 2022)