This one is for Mike, aka Big Duck of Layabozi, and my best friend, who’s leaving Shanghai tomorrow. He’s going to conquer other lands hoping to convert more people to the awesomeness of jazz. I’m sure he will.
Verneri Pohjola Quartet is a cross that started in Shanghai two years ago at the JZ Festival. Verneri Pohjola, and Joonas Riippa are from Finland. From the States, but almost Shanghainese, Mike Brownell, and from Shanghai too Mark Bai. They met first in Shanghai, later they met again in Finland to record the album and play some gigs there, then last year during the Expo in Shanghai they got back together again to perform as part of the great display of music produced by Finland on the Expo.
Hot Pot Around The Corner opens with “Cheap Taxi Adventure”. Taxis are a cool subject in jazz (also in movies, photos, and chats), and adventures are fine in any way. This adventure sounds like a drunk one, as it’s jazz, it must be at least tipsy. Probably alcohol has nothing to do with this album, but once I had this feeling of sounds of drunkenness, I got caught on it. The piano is swimming in the long island teas drank earlier, the drums are high on some kind of bubbles, not champagne bubbles, heavy bubbles, maybe tonic with gin or vodka. The double bass is grooving about the trip, keeping an eye on the road once in a while, and the trumpet is talking about the music, the show, the cats, and the chicks that earlier… and the taxi, dude, the taxi!… what? … I’m telling you, is about the booze and the chicks, and yeah, also that tune, says the piano, that one that went like doobeedoobehpoptchakchaksheeh, and so where were we going? The next bar? The girly bar… wow! Where are we? Hey driver! Driver! …oh, who cares.
The second track, “September Song “of Kurt Weill, although keeps the tone that’s opened with “Cheap Taxi Adventure”, it makes the mood move out from the adventure spirit created on the first one. I probably would have liked another original before falling into a standard tune. Though “September Song” is performed with the right soul. The cadenza of the tune keeps the story calm and the cool of the evening. Certainly, this is not a story during the day light. So say the cymbals and the ramble of the piano. The double bass enjoys the slow motion, you can tell if you hear with attention at each tak tok tuk of the strings. The trumpet digs it too, because it laughs and dances with this tune.
Going back to the originals brings back the playfulness to the air. The third track, “I Love That Hot Pot Place Around The Corner” is walking happy under the wind-blown foliage of the street trees. The piano is playing and kicking stones, dancing, and kidding on the streets. The double bass is whistling and walking sharp around the streets of Shanghai. The drums are walking cool swinging and rapping. The trumpet is tipsy, singing, humming, rambling about a gossip, spicy food, and a forgotten tune last time at that place. The double bass reviews all that while on a solo, and it goes about this and that, and yeah that place, and its food, and it is open til late, and you know, this other thing, and that too, and then goes for an “I’m telling you, dude” that it rests when they all agree to go for hot pot around the corner. On the way, they pass by a cross of streets where some funny chaos is happening, and all shakes and it gets spicy and then it’s gone again.
On”Kuohija”, the trumpet blows in circles from below and around with the drums and the bass guarding its back, and helping it straighten itself up easy. The piano comes in with shy steps, but quickly it becomes loud, and then goes out again, confusing you for a second. But looks like they like it low and blurry, the trumpet recites a tired story, and although is kind of beaten, is not defeated, and it goes until finishing its story. The steady beats of the bass keeping all in order, and the drums commenting the trumpet’s story, and later trying to get into what the piano is saying. The piano jokes about whatever, and starts to get loose, it goes for some drama, even a bit of romance maybe. The double bass is pulsing calm. Suddenly all the pieces come together, and then the trumpet feels fine, and goes with a bit of a texture. For a second it’s not going straight to the point and it’s being shy or doubtful, but sweet, then it is just unavoidable, and what’s been held until now is finally said, and gone.
“Shanghai Ballad” starts with the trumpet on a subject that’s evolving from the one presented earlier on “Kuohija”, the trumpet sings with lights and shadows, but also there’s something empty around it, or maybe moments of intimacy. The piano and the drums come with some unconnected sounds, like walking on zigzag, searching for the right place where to sit or hang, there’s a non sense around, until the trumpet hits it with a tired repetition of the song played earlier, and it goes again, and again. There are also some shades of sounds of the talks of big orchestras when getting ready to play a concert, a far away memory of classic music crossing the jazz sounds.
Dave Holland’s “Four winds”, comes right on time to light up the hang again, and return from the earlier drunkenness. The trumpet sings clearly, the drums swing like is 11pm again, the piano is sparkling, while the bass keeps the contrasting sounds in order. The drums solo is classy, and sharp.
To close the set, other standard. “Born To Be Blue”. The tune starts with one of my favorites sounds of jazz, the minute when the cats chat and plan their next tune, the football moment of jazz, you know, like when the teams have a short chat about the next move. Who knows why, I just enjoy these stops. Then the music. Robert Wells and Mel Torme’s “Born to be Blue”. This tune battles between the blues and the ballad colors, I feel it more like a blues, well, I like blues better than ballads. Specially to close this album, and to let the instruments go to sleep smiling. The blues is drunk, and has been up all night. But anyway, still can get your attention, even maybe a few last dance moves from your fingers tapping on a table. This blues is not only melancholic, and tired, but still it has some funny things to smile at before the end, although …”nothing strikes him funny, ’cause he was born to be blue”.
Hot Place Around the Corner is jazz with a nice character, sometimes shy when it could be taller, and sometimes intense when is chilling. There aren’t big displays of ego on this album, no pirouettes, no heroic deeds during the solos, instead the heroism of this album comes from its clarity and the resulting comfort that’s produced by listening to these tunes. Joonas Riippa, on the drums, swings with no effort, not loud, neither out of control when he has the chance, simply, cool. Mike Brownell on the double bass plays strong and relaxed, and takes the chance on a solo that’s not loose, but it’s relaxed, difficult to explain, but Mike’s sound is locked in this solo, bass lines looking for the right balance between rhythm and melody. Mark Bai on the piano is colorful, contradictory, some times funny, sometimes dramatic, although it feels like he’s trying to avoid drama, or probably trying to evolve it. Verneri Pohjola, the man on the trumpet, the leader of the quartet, leads giving spaces for the exchange and discussions to happen. He brings the themes, enunciate some lines, some times let himself goes, and then he goes away. It’s easy to get him when he is playing with the edges of his sounds, his low sounds are really likeable, and strangely, on his silences are also many things to hear from him, maybe because when the trumpet goes away, it goes too far away, or maybe he hides very well.
Hot Place Around The Corner is chilling jazz, you could hear it and enjoy it without paying too much attention to it because it’s not yelling, but if you pay attention it drags you in this “all is fine” mood that’s comfortable and nice. There aren’t many arguments, neither discussions about heavy subjects, instead the conflicts that make the tunes are mostly about finding the right way to say what they want to say (a common problem when after some drinks). Anyhow, complications are either not so intricate, or solved easily, and so well done that I can’t see the seam. And if you can’t live without troubles, then your keyword could be simplicity, that could be the complex side of the album, if you want to discuss it.
Verneri Pohjola Quatet on Myspace.
Verneri Pohjola Quartet on SoundsBox.