Nada, Plays Compositions by Eero Hämeenniemi (CD, 49:22); Alba ABCD 134 Alba Records P.O. Box 549 Fin-33101 Tampere, Finland Phone: +358-3-345 1387 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cyberhome: www.alba-records.fi Scandinavia is home to many fine jazz musicians, with a particularly thriving scene centered in Denmark. Nada hails from Finland, and this CD features the avant-garde ensemble playing music written by their pianist, Eero Hämeenniemi. It's a very eclectic and charming disc. The first cut, "Blues," starts off with unaccompanied piano and sounds a bit like the standard "You Stepped Out of a Dream." When bassist Sampo Lassila enters, we discover that the tune is a slow 6/8 blues - but with an ingenious form involving three-bar phrases superimposed on the twelve-bar cycle. Markus Ketola's drums come in after about four minutes, and then Pentti Lahti begins his alto sax solo, sounding a bit like Arthur Blythe. The track then undergoes an unexpected transformation, into a two-chord klezmer-style vamp which builds all the way until the dramatic, tightly arranged ending. "Music for Mani IV" and "Music for Mani II" follow. The first begins with breathy, atmospheric sounds and masterful harmonics from Heikki Nikula's bass clarinet. After a couple of minutes, a jaunty and ear-catching melody suddenly breaks in, with very nice counterpoint between bass clarinet and sax. Again, I hear a hint of klezmer as well as the kind of off-kilter phrase construction featured in "Blues." Nikula and Ketola solo adeptly, and Lahti's sax sounds remarkably like a violin when it reenters to state the final melody. The second of this series reveals the group's strong classical influence-a pretty, minor-key ballad, featuring plaintive, high-register alto sax and a fine piano solo. The liner note description for the next tune, "Alter," is worth quoting in full: "The age of great personalities is over, or so one often hears. If you cannot have a major personality, why not have a whole bunch of minor ones? This piece, however, only has two." Clearly, Nada is a likeable band with a great sense of humor. "Alter" is an uptempo swing number with a free improv duo between bass and bass clarinet in the middle and some exceptional drumming by Ketola toward the end. "Takita Taka Takita Takita Taka" is the tongue-twisting finale. Structurally the piece is similar to "Music for Mani IV": a long, abstract intro and a sudden shift into a complex, driving, klezmerish, minor-key melodic theme. The track settles into a strong, harmonics-heavy bass clarinet solo over an ostinato bass figure, then an arco bass solo, and finally a terrific drum solo. This 13-minute-long cut makes clear the ensemble's strong allegiance to the European avant-garde rather than straightahead jazz. Yet structure and melody are not abandoned. The band succeeds at reconciling its various influences, with enjoyable results. ~David R. Adler
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