Although it is not particularly well known outside of Finland, Ilmiliekki Quartet is nonetheless a supergroup, a band of bandleaders who all have worked in a wide variety of contexts, from soul to jazz and electronica. Pianist Tuomo Prättälä, trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, double bassist Antti Lötjönen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori have managed to develop both un esprit de corps and a strong ensemble voice since 2002.
It might seem redundant to describe them as a reed-less quartet yet the absence of a tenor or alto saxophone does put the group in a relatively rare bracket, given the abundance of outfits with two horns. But what is not there can sometimes work to the advantage of what is, and Pohjola’s brass has the kind of tonal depth that often borders on that of a cornet, an impression that is well enhanced by the moments when he pushes towards a stark, snarling overtone, piercing through the discreet flutter and flicker of the rhythm section.
Even though they may have fewer stand-alone solos Prättälä, Lötjönen and Louhivuori provide an impressive framework for Pohjola, marking the spare harmonic landscape with finely shaded details and decisively moving to another key to alter the mood when necessary. It is to their credit that they rein in their performance many times so that the moments of greater emphasis, the splashes on the canvas, so to speak, are all the more effective, which puts Ilmiliekki in a long lineage of expressive small groups led by the likes of Miles Davis, Tomasz Stanko and Kenny Wheeler among many others.
Whether they are in languorous ballad mode or opting for more sprightly mid-tempo beats Ilmiliekki have, like the aforementioned, refined the art of what might be called the quiet fire. The music can smoulder for lengthy passages but the flame eventually burns bright.
Ilmiliekki Quartet: Ilmiliekki Quartet
Verneri Pohjola, trumpet
Tuomo Prättälä, piano
Antti Lötjönen, bass
Olavi Louhivuori, drums
We Jazz Records, 2022