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New album ‘Music of Haarla, Heinilä, Kasurinen & Rönkä’ challenges conventions of big band music with timeless flair

Released on 11 December 2020, the album Music of Haarla, Heinilä, Kasurinen & Rönkä sees UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra play ambitious and original big band music by Finnish composers Iro HaarlaKari HeiniläSampo Kasurinen and Artturi Rönkä. The outcome is a selection of compelling pieces that not only approach the genre from a fresh angle but test the unwritten laws of music more generally. The compositions take UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra boldly to untrodden areas while holding on to timeless class. On the new release, the orchestra is conducted by Kirmo Lintinen

The album Music of Haarla, Heinilä, Kasurinen & Rönkä was mixed by American Paul Wickliffe. The celebrated sound engineer is famous for his long career and studio Skyline Productions, founded in 1979. The studio has been trusted by an endless list of world-famous artists, including Miles DavisEric ClaptonHerbie Hancock and David Bowie.

The album can be ordered as a CD and as a digital version at Eclipse Music’s Bandcamp site. Hi-res 96kHz version for top quality audio lovers will be available later as a digital download. You can also listen to the album on Spotify.

The piece On the Edge of a World by Iro Haarla (b. 1956) travels more than one thousand years back in time to an era when the distant shores of West-Ireland were believed to be the edge of the world. Early Christian monks built their temples on these islands to be closer to God. Indeed, Haarla explains that the piece represents the beauty and sublimity of nature as well as man’s determination and willpower. It features Haarla on the harp – a rarely-heard instrument in a big band context – which adds some eerie magic to its soundscape. Pianist, harpist and composer Iro Haarla is known for her eponymous Finno-Norwegian quintet that has issued three albums on the celebrated ECM Records and toured widely in Europe and North America. Haarla’s artistic achievements have earned her two Jazz Emma prizes (2005 & 2011) and the Yrjö Jazz Prize (2006). She has also been honoured with the Pori Jazz Artist of the Year (2018) and, most recently, the Finnish Jazz Legend awards (2020). 

Saxophonist and composer Kari Heinilä (b. 1966) wrote the piece Neo-Noir originally four years ago for a concert that saw UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra celebrate his 50th anniversary. Its theme took shape on the pages of Heinilä’s notebook years before and the anniversary concert presented a suitable occasion for the composer to finish it. Heinilä was also fascinated with the idea to write a piece for a particular soloist – in this case Jouni Järvelä, a member of UMO Helsinki’s woodwind section since 1992. The composer himself has also been a major force behind UMO Helsinki, having worked as its tenor saxophonist in 1987–1994 and conducted the orchestra since 1995 in more than 200 concerts. He acted as the orchestra’s Artistic Director in 2010–2011 and was a member of its artistic committee in 2012­–2014. A celebrated and long-standing jazz artist, Heinilä has been selected as the Pori Jazz Artist of the Year (1995) and awarded with the Yrjö Jazz Prize (2001) among other accolades.

The piece Four Dances: I by saxophonist and composer Sampo Kasurinen (b. 1990) could be compared to a saxophone concerto. It belongs to the suite Four Dances, which is to be continued in the near future. The piece features fractals, mathematical entities, that may be evident on paper but evasive to the ear. Indeed, Kasurinen admits to enjoy solving problems of music theory as they provide an interesting framework for composing. On the other hand, building a piece around them also requires creativity. Four Dances: I does not represent traditional big band music but, rather, experiments on the expressive potential of the big band. The listener may pick up the influence of Arnold Schoenberg’s waltzes as well as Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto. Kasurinen is widely recognised in both the fields of jazz and classical music. In addition to UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra, his works have been performed by, for example, the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra, and he has arranged pieces for the likes of Oulu Symphony Orchestra and Jyväskylä Symphony Orchestra. Kasurinen has won the Esko Linnavalli and Markku Johansson composition contests, and in 2019 his orchestral piece Valo was selected to the notable international composition competition, Rychenberg Competition.

Pianist and composer Artturi Rönkä (b. 1990) wrote the piece En Ut in 2015. Commissioned by the Sibelius Academy, the composition subtly comments on the opening of Symphony No. 7 by Jean Sibelius. “In the key of C” in English, the title refers to the main key of Sibelius’s symphony. Rönkä perceives similarities between Sibelius and Bob Brookmeyer, playfully crossing the styles of these two composers in this piece. Sarabande was written originally for an ensemble line-up and afterwards orchestrated and arranged for big band. Rönkä wrote the piece in 2016 when he held a particular fascination for baroque music. The title Sarabande is a reference to a form of baroque dance that evolved in 17th century France into a slow court dance in triple metre. Indeed, in his piece Rönkä explores how typical elements of the sarabande can be introduced into jazz music. Rönkä has collaborated with UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra regularly since 2011 especially as an arranger, and the orchestra’s archives include already more than 60 scores by him. He has won both the Finnish Esko Linnavalli and Swedish Jazzverk composition contests, and he was selected as the Pori Jazz Artist of the Year in 2013.  

On the new album, UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra is conducted by Kirmo Lintinen (b. 1967) who is also its artistic producer jointly with saxophonist Jouni Järvelä (b. 1973). Lintinen has made a long and strikingly versatile career in music, appearing as a soloist, sideman and conductor in countless Finnish jazz groups, symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras. His compositional oeuvre comprises more than one hundred works that range from children’s songs to opera, minor pedagogical pieces to film music, popular music to twelve-tone serial compositions and jazz to baroque music. He joined the ranks of UMO Helsinki in 1989 first as a pianist, but since 1994 he has concentrated increasingly on conductor’s duties and programme planning. Lintinen has written his considerable big band oeuvre entirely for UMO Helsinki. 


UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra: Music of Haarla, Heinilä, Kasurinen & Rönkä

Eclipse Music CD/digital (ECD-2020109)

Release date: 11 Dec 2020

1. En Ut (4’55) (Artturi Rönkä)
Soloist: Manuel Dunkel, soprano saxophone

2. Neo-Noir (11’31) (Kari Heinilä)
Soloist: Jouni Järvelä, alto saxophone

3. Sarabande (6’10) (Artturi Rönkä)
Soloist: Seppo Kantonen, piano

4. Four Dances I: Waltz (9’41) (Sampo Kasurinen)
Soloist: Sampo Kasurinen, alto saxophone

5. On the Edge of a World (5’58) (Iro Haarla)

Saxophones & woodwinds:
Jouni Järvelä: alto saxophone (2), soprano saxophone (1, 3, 4), Bb clarinet (4, 5), flute (5)
Sampo Kasurinen: alto saxophone (1, 3, 4), alto flute (2), flute (5)
Ville Vannemaa: tenor saxophone (1, 3, 4, 5), flute (2, 4)
Manuel Dunkel: tenor saxophone (3, 4, 5), soprano saxophone (1), alto flute (2, 4, 5)
Mikko Mäkinen: baritone saxophone (1, 3, 4, 5), bass clarinet (2, 4), Bb clarinet (4)

Trumpets & flugelhorns:
Teemu Mattsson (lead), Timo Paasonen, Mikko Pettinen, Tero Saarti

Heikki Tuhkanen (lead), Mikko Mustonen (tuba on 5), Pekka Laukkanen, Mikael Långbacka (bass trombone)

Rhythm section:
Seppo Kantonen: piano (1–4)
Juho Kivivuori: double bass (1–4)
Ulf Krokfors: double bass (5)
Markus Ketola: drums & percussion
Iro Haarla: harp (5)
Ville Syrjäläinen: vibraphone (4)

Kirmo Lintinen

Artistic producers: Jouni Järvelä & Kirmo Lintinen
Recorded on 25–26 Apr 2019 by Petri Majuri in E-Studio, Sipoo, Finland
Recording assistants: Jyri Riikonen & Jouko Lavonen
Mixed by Paul Wickliffe at Skyline Productions, Warren, New Jersey, U.S.A.
Production: UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra
Record label: Eclipse Music
Photography: Teemu Mattsson
Cover design: Valtteri Pokela