Review Summary: An intriguing tribute, Verneri Pohjola melds his father's prog rock offerings with his own brand of jazz.
Without divulging too much information around the circumstances (a simple visit to its Bandcamp page is better than me painfully regurgitating what is freely available to be read), Pekka
is jazz trumpeter Verneri Pohjola’s tribute to his late father, Pekka Pohjola, a prominent member of the Finnish prog rock scene. Already with a career of his own to speak of, it’s perhaps a signal of intent that opener ‘The Dragon of Kätkävaara’, a reworking of his father’s ‘Kätkävaaran lohikäärme’, doesn’t enter with the pulsing drums of the original; instead, a glitchy, electronic beat adds a surprisingly inorganic dimension to the track’s Middle Eastern flavour. The conjunction of the backing clicks and pops, Pekka’s Arabesque bass line and Verneri’s jazzy noodlings is a peculiar one, but it highlights the trumpeter’s approach perfectly; the groundwork is already provided, so it’s up to him to use it in a way that’s not a mere aping. In short, they’re not so much covers as they are reformations, with the younger Pohjola's controlled yet flashy performance at its epicentre.
Indeed, aside from its emotional purpose Pekka
easily stands on its own feet musically. Verneri’s performance band abide by the common ‘everyone gets a go’ attitude seen in improvisation circles, but the creation (and importantly maintaining) of various atmospheres is impressive. Tuomo Prättälä’s Rhodes, for example, are used to differing effect on ‘Benjamin’ and ‘Innocent Questions.’ The former uses its distinctive chime alongside bells and cymbals to imbue an Oriental feeling; for the latter, however, the substitution of piano for Rhodes and guitar for trumpet, ‘Innocent Questions’ is transformed from a delicate acoustic number into something far more sinister. Arguably, Antti Lötjönen’s contributions of bass carry the most significance and tellingly remain somewhat untouched (with regards to Pekka's own work) - however, the distinct twang of the double bass bridges a forty year gap between father and son more poignantly than any other element.
is definitely a jazz album, certain prog rock proclivities remain from its ‘source material’ – the pompous melody of ‘First Morning’ could come straight from an Emerson, Lake and Palmer piece, for example, while the wah-fuelled romp that comprises ‘Pinch’s first minute sounds like one of Focus’ more raucous offerings. Although Verneri’s explorative side yields many wonderful moments, particularly during the second half his propensity for improvisation means Pekka
sometimes feels unfocused – its largest fault (aside from a few personal stylistic gripes). This is particularly noticeable during ‘Madness Subsides,’ an attempt at tripling the length of its original counterpart with extended guitar solos, a development of Pekka’s original bass solo, and finally more glitch/trumpet combinations; each section isn’t unpleasant (and as aforementioned showcase fascinating displays of musicianship), but its lack of direction hampers the momentum ‘Inke and Me’ and ‘Pinch’ had built up so convincingly.
Overall however, Pekka
works both as a colourful, adventurous jazz album and as a synthesis of two different personal styles. Verneri Pohjola’s decision to continue his father’s legacy is, rather fittingly, a form of experimentation on music which prided itself on its experimental values. Even if it is flawed, I think that’s a pretty damn good way to honour him.