There was a very strong likelihood that the Finnish pianist Alexi Tuomarila could have become a professional tennis player had he not discovered Miles Davis and gone on to study in Brussels where he won many prizes. Those tennis essentials – gracefulness, nimble footwork, sensitivity to the moment and delicacy of touch – are abundantly apparent here in Alexi’s sparkling touch. I imagine a Roger Federer performance, no pressure visible, feet (or fingers) skimming the ground, elegant changes of direction like a swallow in flight. When Alexi’s career hit a dark patch, titles such as Bone Yard Jive and My Dark Hours hint at the desolation within but now, on Edition Records, he returns to dazzling sunlight with this beautiful album. His playing is breathtaking, it is cool and Scandinavian yet warm and intimate, a density of notes yet never heavy. I keep wanting to use the adjective sparkling but that’s what this album is, every track dazzles you with wonder.
He is joined by Mats Eilertsen on bass (Tord Gustavsen Trio and Mats’ own bands, most recently on the exquisite Sails Set) and Olavi Louhivuori on drums (leader of Oddarrang amongst other excellent projects), and on a couple of tracks by Portuguese guitar player André Fernandes. Alexi’s trio have played together before, on his Constellation (2006), well-titled, a pitch for the heavens that he has now reached in Seven Hills.
There are very strong melodies, some hymn-like (Miss), others have a Monk-tinge (Visitor Q), all demonstrate perfect understanding between this trio. The guitar seems to be used (on Prologue and Ceremony) to set up tension,the drums contorted like thunder, but always the piano brings us back to serenity. On Jibeinia, we have the delicate tracery of an extinct fossil bird, a feathered dinosaur set out in Mats’ bass, the piano wistfully trilling a possible call for this long-gone creature.
All the tracks are standout. but I must draw attention to Cyan by Olavi where the trio is at its most etheral. It could be a lullaby for a sleepy child or the remembrance of a perfect summer day, the drums are like rustling silk.
I saw Alexi with this trio earlier in the year at Warwick Arts Centre. We can only hope Alexi tours the UK soon, more people need to experience his sublimely contemplative intensity for themselves. Game, Set and Match to Mr Tuomarila.
Alexi Tuomarila, piano
Mats Eilertsen, double bass
Olavi Louhivuori, drums
André Fernandes, guitar
Seven Hill is available from Edition Records and other places