Review: Alexi Tuomarila Trio, Warwick Arts Centre, 27 January 2013

It’s not every day that you get taken by surprise by a piano trio but that’s what happened to me last night at Warwick Arts Centre. The Alexi Tuomarila Trio are due to release their new album on Edition Records in April so it was a great thrill and a coup for Jazz Coventry to host them so early in the year. Alexi’s trio consists of Mats Eilertsen on bass and Olavi Louhivuori on drums and himself on piano. As a trio comprised of a Norwegian and two Finns, they speak to each other in English but there the compromise ends. Each of them is a star in their own firmament. From a very early age, Alexi won prizes and over the years has played with Tomasz Stanko ( I believe I saw him at WAC with Tomasz Stanko in 2009). Mats leads his own projects (notably with Thomas Strønen and Harmen Fraanje, in addition to playing with Tord Gustavsen). Olavi leads Oddarrang (you will know about my enthusiasm for this project) and he also plays with Tomasz Stanko. There isn’t space to list all their achievements here but the sum total of all their experience means when you see all three on stage together you have an almost limitless depth.

So what was so great last night? Well, what most struck me was that I was listening to very dense sound, on the piano and the bass, but it didn’t feel heavy or overwhelming. It may have been Alexi’s exquisite sparkling touch on the piano, he could play a lot of notes at once and yet they felt airy. On the drums, a friend commented that he was impressed at how much sound Olavi could produce from so few drums. And Mats seemed to be always there, supporting, leading or progressing complex tunes that hung in the air at their ending. And together they created a beautiful sound. It was captivating.

So a composition like Pearl by Alexi or Cyan (?) by Olavi was able to be simultaneously dense and shimmering yet full of space. Magical. There were sounds like creaking timber, I felt I was on a ship going down, there was a feeling of dread and fear and then it was lifted so gently. One composition started with a lovely piano melody like the remembrance of summers past, wistful and gentle. I think this may have morphed into Bob Dylan’s The times they are a-changin but like Brad Mehldau, Alexi keeps standards very well hidden.

Their new album will be out in April on Edition Records. It is called Seven Hills and features the Portuguese guitarist André Fernandes. If anything, the album is more accessible than the performance last night but I like being challenged and I got the feeling that the band relished being in the same room for a few hours, an occurrence that is unlikely to be repeated often from now on as they pursue their other projects. Their modesty as a band was overwhelming and it was a great privilege to hear them live. Five stars.

Alexi Tumarila, piano

Mats Eilertsen, bass

Olavi Louhivuori, drums

Women’s words matter…

At the end of 2012 I was prompted to write to Jazzwise. I’m really pleased they published my letter in Jazzwise 171 and I hope it starts a debate and a louder voice for women in jazz, whether as artists, critics or fans. My letter is below. I would love to hear what you think.

I look forward to and enjoy your Albums of the Year (Jazzwise 170). I can find something to agree with in each of the lists of your nineteen correspondents, and there is food for thought leading to future purchases. But surely I am not alone with Nate Chinen in wondering where are all the female jazz critics? Might they have come up with different lists? Excellent music, and we have had a lot this year, requires robust as well as appreciative criticism of the same standard as the music it celebrates. The field of jazz criticism has become unbalanced from the changing jazz audience, and I find this unsettling, it lacks a female perspective. I don’t want to become alienated from the music I love when I read about it. I want to learn how to appreciate it in language I feel enthused by and which speaks to my heart as well as my head. I’m not saying that male critics do not understand this need for balance, but often there is an over-emphasis on a rational approach to criticism that feels cold. Sometimes you want to know what music feels like, and I think women may be able to do that as well as applying critical faculties to jazz. Hoping you can redress this imbalance in the coming year.