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Verneri Pohjola's world-building is both mindful and intuitive

by Santeri Kaipiainen

"The dualism of serenity and restlessness on the one hand and the leaps of a monkey mind on the other can be found on the appropriately titled album Monkey Mind released by trumpet player Verneri Pohjola in November 2023," writes Santeri Kaipiainen.

The Buddhist metaphor ‘monkey mind’ refers to the propensity of the human mind to get distracted and dart from one thought to another, as opposed to conscious observation of and presence in the present. The dualism of serenity and restlessness on the one hand and the leaps of a monkey mind on the other can be found on the appropriately titled album Monkey Mind released by trumpet player Verneri Pohjola in November 2023 – right from its opening track, ‘Party In The Attic’, which features sharp transitions, a fervent groove and a surprising moment of serenity about two thirds of the way through, like a moment of clarity achieved through meditation.


Themes revolving around the complexity of life and humanity have had a strong presence in Pohjola’s instrumental music for quite some time. His album Pekka (2017) was a stock-taking of the life and music of his late father, bass player Pekka Pohjola. The duo album Animal Image (2018) with drummer Mika Kallio was a series of musical comments on a film by Perttu Saksa about the gaze between human and animal, and the album The Dead Don’t Dream (2020) was, as the title says, an exhortation to focus on life here and now.


On Monkey Mind, Pohjola has a new backing group consisting of Danish bass player Jasper Høiby, British pianist Kit Downes and his colleague from the Ilmiliekki Quartet, drummer Olavi LouhivuoriTuomo Prättälä, who featured on his previous albums, contributed synthesisers and programming and shared the artistic producer’s chair with Pohjola himself. The end result is somewhat removed from the acoustic live studio aesthetic typical for jazz, as Pohjola embraces multitracking, electronics and post-production effects in his search for the counterpoint of sounds he desires. Oriented in timbre, this approach may have been influenced by composer Kaija Saariaho and her trumpet concerto Hush, which Pohjola premiered posthumously. In terms of rhythm and pulsation, we might venture a guess as to the album Hyperreal by pianist Aki Rissanen being a source of inspiration, as Pohjola played on that album as well.


‘Space Diamonds’ proceeds in a steady stream of sixteenth notes that is reminiscent of another jazz musician exploring new territory, Linda Fredriksson on their album Juniper (they also appear as a guest star on Monkey Mind). There is something surprisingly Vangelis-ish in the unison melodies on trumpet and synthesiser. ‘Being Sentient’ juxtaposes long notes on the trumpet with clumsy drums falling over themselves, like a child learning how to walk; it is as if gaining more information about the chaos, unfairness and meaninglessness of the world increases stress.


There are moments of calm, though: firstly, the ballad ‘Of Our Children’, which evokes the Americana jazz of Brad Mehldau, and the psychological focus of the album, ‘Save This One for When You Need It’, whose strong tune resembling a gospel song appears to encourage future audiences to hum along.


‘Avance!’ returns to a cinematic drive in the manner of Krzysztof Komeda or Anssi Tikanmäki, while ‘Dance In The Morning’ balances between languor and groove – as does ‘Bebe’, a little dance evoking an adult immersing themself in the world of a child. The light and rhapsodic ‘Out of Silence’ eventually drifts back into the world of noise which we departed from at the beginning of the album. I must admit I found my concentration wavering during the final four tracks, even though the album as a whole is wonderful. My own monkey mind, apparently, had the last word.

Verneri Pohjola: Monkey Mind
Edition EDN1225, 2023


Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi