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Leading from the bassline

by Wif Stenger

"Mäensivu also has three strong originals on the disc, saving the best for last: closing tune The Lemur is also the perfect showcase for her bass playing, scampering agilely as a lemur up a tree."

Jazz bassists are often overlooked as cogs in the machine, holding bands together and earning polite applause after brief, understated solos.

There’s not much of a tradition of stand-up bassists as bandleaders either, beyond Charles Mingus and Charlie Haden, and few have excelled as composers and vocalists.

Kaisa Mäensivu bucks those trends with this 23-minute EP, which showcases her as a soloist, accompanist, vocalist, composer, lyricist and bandleader. She has previously recorded with vocal group Signe and her own band, Kaisa’s Machine, which released its debut album in 2017. In retrospect, that debut sounds dull and generic, with Mäensivu’s bass barely audible. In contrast, the new record is much more assured and swinging, with a livelier, direct sound.

The three other members of that band appear on two tracks here, but the other four feature her new trio with vibraphonist Severi Pyysalo and New York drummer Joe Peri, who has taken over the Kaisa’s Machine drum seat for its upcoming gigs.

The other members of Kaisa’s Machine, especially saxophonist Max Zenger, have become much more distinctive players since their debut, and so has Mäensivu.

After years in New York, gigging and studying under the likes of Ron Carter, she sounds much more confident on the bass and even adds vocals on two tracks, her own translations of American jazz standards.

While her singing is a little wobbly on Tähdet (Star Eyes, made famous by Charlie Parker), she scores an endearing hit with Mä kelasin sua, a wry 2020s update of 1939’s I Thought About You, the feeling it encapsulates unchanged over the decades.

Mäensivu also has three strong originals on the disc, saving the best for last: closing tune The Lemur is also the perfect showcase for her bass playing, scampering agilely as a lemur up a tree.

The main problem with this release? It’s too brief.

Kaisa Mäensivu: Hand Picked

2021, Flame Jazz Records