By Paul de Barros | Published March 2021
Unless you’ve been spending a lot of time in Pori, Finland, you’re probably not familiar with the fierce, free-improvising trio Hot Heros.
Vodjanoi, a first-time studio collaboration with the sternly lyrical pianist Iro Haarla, dwells in the spare, deep-focus Nordic landscape known for its cool fire and slow-motion folkloric melodies. In this hypnotic territory, Haarla and the Heros evoke roaming spirits, including the titular Finnish merman, a mermaid, a howling wolf and a dancing bear. As this is not a collaboration between a piano trio with a horn-playing guest, but rather a tenor-bass-drums ensemble hosting a pianist, Haarla functions more as an equal, linear soloist than as a harmonizer. Her rhythms also are significantly less jazz-oriented than on other recordings, and the trio is less ferocious than usual—which suits the project’s quiet mystery. The result is nevertheless grittier than much Nordic jazz.
Saxophonist Sami Sippola spits out a throaty, bluesy sound on the pretty, folk-jazz title tune and the snappy, brushes- and snare-driven opener, “Kuulin Suden Ulvovan,” while also diving comfortably into a passionate, Coltrane-ish 6/4 pulse on “Niin On Kehto Tyhjillään.” Bassist Ville Rauhala plays with a gorgeous, blond tone on “Karhuntanssi,” with Haarla ringing bell-like notes behind him, and evokes a cello-like sadness on his own “Por Qué Tu Sonrisa Me Mata.” Haarla’s only composition here, “Kullankaivajan Blues,” as well as the closer, “Vedenneito,” showcase her uncanny, Paul Bley-like ability to remain centered and focused in a diffuse, free ambiance.
Vodjanoi: Kuulin Suden Ulvovan; Karhuntanssi; Kullankaivajan Blues; Niin On Kehto Tyhjillään; Por Qué Tu Sonrisa Me Mata; Murmansk; Vodjanoi; Vedenneito. (61:10)
Personnel: Iro Haarla, piano; Sami Sippola, tenor saxophone; Ville Rauhala; bass; Janne Tuomi, drums.