Edward Vesala: Ode To The Death Of Jazz (ECM 1413)

Edward Vesala
Ode To The Death Of Jazz

Matti Riikonen trumpet
Jorma Tapio alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute
Jouni Kannisto tenor saxophone, flute
Pepa Päivinen soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet
Tim Ferchen marimba, tubular bells
Taito Vainio accordion
Iro Haarla piano, harp, keyboards
Jimi Sumen guitar
Uffe Krokfors bass
Edward Vesala drums
Recorded April/May 1989 at Sound and Fury Studio, Helsinki
Engineer: Jimi Sumen
Produced by Manfred Eicher and Vesala

If jazz is a body, then Edward Vesala is its ligament of fascination. Flexing and creaking with the passage of emotion into life and life into silence, the drummer’s disarming soundscapes never fail to intrigue, to say something potent and new. In spite of its tongue-in-cheek title (I cannot imagine Vesala trying to make a grand statement here), Ode To The Death Of Jazz is, strangely, one of his more uplifting exercises in sonic production.

The title of “Sylvan Swizzle” sets the bar in both tone and sentiment, opening in a smooth and winding road of flute, woodwinds, percussion, and harp. Textural possibilities bear the fruit of the ensemble’s explorations in somatic sound: an exercise in pathos, to be sure, if only through the eyes of something not human. The space here is dark yet flecked with iridescence, sporting yet bogged down by infirmity, vivacious yet weak in the eyes. With every change of title comes a change of scenery. “Infinite Express” thus moves us out of those caves and onto an evening dance floor populated by the demimonde of the upper crust. As the big band plays, each socialite shares with the other what it does not have in itself. The pliant reed work and watery splash (the album’s greatest moment) make for an unexpected give and take. “Time To Think” is both a question and its answer. Vesala constantly redefines its brooding atmosphere with subtle commentary. A mystical solo piano works its way through these tides, giving us pause for reflection. The bizarre call and response that opens “Winds Of Sahara” gives way to a distorted train ride through landscapes both electronic and acoustic, its Elliott Sharp vibe on point. The metallic drones and throated horns of “Watching For The Signal” thread tree branches whose leaves rustle like detuned guitars in the forest’s harp music. This beautiful track is one of Vesala’s finest and should reward the listener who has struggled thus far. “A Glimmer Of Sepal” is another fascinating detour. Featuring an accordion wrapped in the embrace of a tango dipped in the consequence of regret, it harbors in its nest of shadows not eggs but glimmers of light in a time when desperation calls for sanity. “Mop Mop” is the set’s requisite dose of whimsy and comes off like an Art Ensemble of Chicago outing, replete with percussive asides and an electronic seasoning packet thrown in for good measure. Last is “What? Where? Hum Hum,” which drops us headfirst into an old jazz scene, where lace and bowties shed their skins as the night presses on. The sax solo wrenches out its emotional hang-ups and throws them to the dance floor to bleed, wither, and go still.

Whether or not Ode signals the death of jazz or any other genre is moot, for it has been speaking its own language the entire time. That being said, and despite the evocative associations the album has inspired in me, it does seem somewhat restrained as Vesala efforts go (and maybe this is the point). The real strength here, though, is the fine interweaving of electronics in a relatively large group setting. Vesala newbies will want to start with the masterful tides of Nan Madol before holding this conch shell to their ears.

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