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Iro Haarla Northbound Review

Album. Released 2005.  

BBC Review

Debut as leader for former Edward Vesala collaborator Haarla and a crack team of ECM...

Peter Marsh 2005

Fans of the late Edward Vesala will probably remember Iro Haarla as the arranger, harpist and keyboard player for the drummer's Sound and Fury ensemble. Haarla still holds that job down as well as playing in various small groups with other ex Vesala sidemen, but this is her first recording as leader for ECM.

Alongside her are saxophonist Trygve Seim, bassist Uffe Krokfors (both former Vesala collaborators), trumpeter Matthias Eick and the legendary Jon Christensen on drums. On first hearing it's clear that Haarla's music bears a strong resemblance to that of Vesala's (allegedly she co-authored a lot of his tunes without receiving any credit).

But further, closer listens uncover the unique beauties of Haarla's music, which sits at that mystical halfway point between improv and composition. Barcarole has one of those folky tunes that seems to have been around for years, just waiting for someone to pluck it from the air. Other pieces offer the barest wisps of melody, relying on the group's ability to generate structure spontaneously.

Haarla's approach to the piano has the weightless, displaced qualities of Paul Bley, while her harp brings a delicate romanticism to proceedings. Unsurprisingly there are faint echoes of Alice Coltrane at times; Yaara Yaara is reminiscent of Journey to Satchinanda, though taken a good few degrees nearer the Arctic Circle.

Seim's saxophone has something of Jan Garbarek about it, but he's a warmer, more approachable player. His tenor solo on the slow burning Light in the Sadness is a bit of a heartstopper, just the right side of sentimental. His blurry, slurred soprano curls are also gorgeously expressive, and a good foil for Eick's pure toned excursions. Avoiding the vocal tricks of Arve Henriksen or Per Jorgensen, Eick constructs logical, probing solos that hang in the spaces left by the rest of the group.

Christensen and Krokfors mark time fluidly, with the drummer sounding uncannily like Paul Motian these days. Though the pair never turn up the heat too much, they generate enough momentum to coax the frontline into some gorgeous performances. Let's hope we get to hear more from them...

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