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Ante Lucem : For Symphony Orchestra And Jazz Quintet

ECM 473 2371


  1. Songbird Chapel

  2. Persevering With Winter

  3. And The Darkness Has Not Overcome It

  4. Ante Lucem - Before Dawn ...

    Iro Haarla - Piano, harp
    Hayden Powell - Trumpet
    Trygve Seim - Soprano sax, tenor sax
    Ulf Krokfors - Double bass
    Mika Kallio - Drums, percussion
    Norrlands Operans Symfoniorkester:
    Karin Erikkson - Concertmaster
    Jukka Iisakkila - Conductor

    I confess to not having come across the Finnish pianist, harpist, composer and arranger, Iro Haarla, before. This is despite the fact that she has a couple of previous albums for ECM in Northbound (2005) and Vespers (2011). In addition, she had a close musical association with her late husband, also from Finland, the drummer and composer Edward Vasala, who died in 1999, and she contributed significantly to Vasala's oeuvre, as well as appearing with two of his groups. On this occasion she is joined by British-born trumpet player, Hayden Powell, by the gifted Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim, by her present husband Ulf Krokfors on bass, and by the drummer and percussionist, Mika Kallio, a fellow Finn. Powell was actually brought up in Norway, where he received his music education and where he has played, for instance, with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. He has recorded over twenty albums, three as a leader. Trygve Seim is an outstanding figure on the Scandanavian jazz scene and has played on over forty CDs. Ulf Krokfors was a member of Edward Vasala's Sound and Fury group from 1988-90, so he and Haarla go back a long way. Mika Kallio, during his career, has often been associated with free jazz. The Norrlands Opera Symphony Orchestra are, of course, also present on this interesting blend of traditions. The recording took place in the Concert Hall of the orchestra, in Ume, Sweden and the music was commissioned for the Ume Jazz Festival 2012.

    All of the music on the album was composed by Iro Haarla and it reflects how gifted she is in this respect. There are four pieces, all of which are linked by the theme of the struggle between darkness and light, in the rhythms and seasons of nature but also in human experiences of adversity and struggle.The opening track, Songbird Chapel, is dedicated to Haarla's mother who had passed away only recently. This is an enthralling and spacious treatment of a lovely theme. It has its dramatic moments, too, with the swelling orchestra employed to powerful effect. Trygve Seim on saxophone inevitably invites comparison with his fellow countryman Jan Garbarek, not surprisingly since Garbarek was an early influence. Hayden Powell is superlative on trumpet, too. There is a gentle fade at the end. Persevering With Winter begins in mysterious fashion but overall has a more dissonant feel to it than the opener. Indeed, it is riotous, even discordant at times. Nevertheless, it makes a considerable impact. Powell is stirring on trumpet and Seim is once more notable on tenor sax, Haarla ruminative on piano. I would say that this track is more orchestral than jazz, taken as a whole. And The Darkness Has Not Overcome It (the title is a quotation from the Gospel According To St. John, Chapter One) matches the opening track for quality. The musicians who make up the jazz quintet each sparkle. Seim gives us a yearning, almost keening, soprano sax solo, delivered passionately. Powell with that beautiful tone of his, is equally magnetic. There is vigorous and imaginative bass playing from Krokfors in dialogue with drummer Kallio who earlier had contributed some delicate, shimmering percussion. As always, Haarla's touch is in complete sympathy with the music, the orchestra and her own group.The piece is brought to a rich and hopeful conclusion. Ante Lucem - Before Dawn is a further phrase from the Christian scriptures referring to Easter Day and the resurrection of Christ. In common with the second piece, there is a tendency to cacophony on occasions and, consequently the music here can be understood as more avant-garde than the other offerings. It is sweeping and powerful and characterised, nonetheless, by immaculate musicianship from the orchestra and the jazz quintet.

    So, what to make of it all, this total of sixty-five minutes of music. There are still followers of jazz for whom the very thought of collaboration with a symphony orchestra is anathema. Anyone who is prepared to come to this album without preconceptions, however, will be pleasantly surprised at the scope it provides for mutually enriching explorations of finely expressed themes. The jazz element is strong throughout and is not restricted solely to the quintet. Of course, since Iro Haarla is classically trained, her compositions also reflect that. There were times when I was reminded of parts of Gustav Holst's Planet Suite but the music of Maria Schneider's orchestral ventures weren't far away either. For crossover fans, this is a treat!

    James Poore

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