Mika Pohjola is a modern day jazz stylist and innovator who has assimilated the entirety of the jazz tradition, and much of the early 20th century classical one, and turned it on its head with an individual voice that swings deep, wide, and melodically. With his trio that includes bassist Matt Penman and drummer Roberto Dani, this immigrant New Yorker composes music that is equal parts hard bop, swing, and post-bop modalism, with more than a little of Debussy and Ravel thrown in for measure. Tracks like A Farmer's Dream showcase the intricate harmonic structures Pohjola is capable of erecting and executing even at dizzying tempos. His extrapolation of the blues in creating an 11/8 sprint of augmented chords and bright shimmering ostinatos is gravity defying. Later, on Relax in the Sun, a gentle Latin swing rhythm accompanies his exploration of Bill Evans' harmonic ideas based on minor sixths and flatted ninths. But the heart and soul of Pohjola's playing is in Kaféet, Elegiac and pastoral at the same time, Pohjola's pianism is filled with lyrical heart and moving washes of unpretentious classical soul à la Scriabin and Olivier Messiaen. This is one hell of a live record by a talent who deserves to record regularly for Blue Note as well as play the club. Born in Finland and now residing in New York City, jazz pianist Mika Pohjola has been the recipient of some conspicuous attention these days. A stylist who possesses enormous chops, Pohjola delivers the goods in prominent fashion with his latest Trio release, recorded live at New York City's Blue Note venue. And with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Roberto Dani, Pohjola also intimates an affinity for suspenseful evolvement via his cunning predilection for reconstructing rhythms and previously stated motifs. The pianist is a stickler for compositional form yet is prone to elaborate on micro-themes that further enhance or perhaps, provide an added dimension of depth to the overall scope of these enticing works. On Relax In The Sun, Pohjola concocts a Caribbean vibe while Dani and Penman infuse traces of Latin, Reggae and Calypso rhythms that invoke resplendent imagery of an iridescent tropical sunset. Here, the pianist articulates lyrically rich passages via huge block chords commingled with faint doses of harmonics, fragmented lines and flailing crescendos. Mika Pohjola is a young talent on an upward spiral. Sparked by a skilled rhythm section, the pianist pronounces a highly literate jazz vernacular yet counterbalances some of the austere implications with buoyant interplay and airy lyricism that provides an indelible stamp of authenticity to this fine outing.
The Down Beat Magazine
released September 23, 1996
Mika Pohjola - piano & composer
Matt Penman - bass
Roberto Dani - drums