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Iro Haarla Quintet - Vespers (2011)

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With nearly 1,800 posts under our belt, we at SER have covered a whole lot of different styles, players and instruments, but based on a cursory search, I haven't found a single piece where a harpist is the featured musician. We now have that covered: meet Iro Haarla.

Actually, one of Finland's finest is a pianist too, as well as a composer and arranger. Her most recent album, Vespers, is a showcase to all of these aptitudes, which doesn't make it so much a harp album as it does a “Iro Haarla" album. Haarla first gained the big props as a key member in percussionist Edward Vesala's bands, working as arranger and orchestrator. Her close relationship eith Vesala culiminated in their marriage, and she dedicated her career working with him until his death in 1999.

Vespers, her second for the ECM label, carries over the same quintet used for the first ECM, Northbound (2006). Mathias Eick, whose own fresh new ECM record was given a look over just yesterday is on trumpet, as well as Trygve Seim, his saxophone partner in crime on Manu Katché's phenomenal Playground (2007). Former Vesala Sound & Fury band mate Ulf Krokfors mans the acoustic bass and ECM hall of famer Jon Christensen is on drums. Indeed, this is a group of Scandinavian all-stars.



These nine songs of hers are all rubatos, in the “free ballad" form that Vesala and Christensen helped to instigate with Jan Garbarek decades ago. Avant paced but lyrically flowing, Haarla has become a master of this style, and her harp is a great accessory to this style; she could have easily played it on more than the three of four tracks that she did. Krokfors' pivotal role at bass taking charge of the flow of the song with Christensen, makes Haarla's piano, which is mostly in the background, nearly superfluous. Eick and Seim carry over that great rapport from the Katché project, pouring out aching notes that assures the Norwegian jazz legacy is in good shape for the next generation.

The capacious Nordic jazz sound is in good shape for years to come, too, thanks to torch bearers like Iro Haarla. Vespers was released last April 12.

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