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The Soul and Jazz of Timo Lassy

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Album Review

Finnish saxophonist Timo Lassy may not be a familiar name to American jazz fans yet, but if there is any justice, that will change with the release of this debut album. Lassy is part of the turn-of-the-millennium group of truly fantastic jazz musicians from Europe in general and Finland in particular, who have embraced both the "mainstream" hard bop and soul-jazz traditions as well as the more sophisticated aspect of club culture (sans hip-hop or house music) and come up with a new palette of colors and textures to draw from. The Soul & Jazz of Timo Lassy is his full-length debut, and it's a stunner. The album was issued in June of 2007 in Europe and Japan on the mighty independent Ricky Tick imprint, while in the States it was issued in cooperation with the excellent ObliqSound imprint that also released African guitarist Lionel Loueke's American debut. Lassy is a member of the Five Corners Quintet, the U-Street All Stars (who record for Blue Note in Europe; stateside listeners get...never mind), and the Teddy Rok Seven (and a member of Jimi Tenor's live band). In general, he is a leading light on the vibrant Helsinki jazz scene. Lassy has a big-boned earthy sound on the tenor and baritone saxophones and funky big sound on the flute. Comparisons in the liner notes to this set cite Willis Jackson and Pharoah Sanders, but that's misleading in a sense, because there are so many players that Lassy has been influenced by in creating his own utterly complete voice on the horns. The band includes the best and the brightest of the Finnish jazz lights, including fellow Fiver Corners members trumpeter Jukka Eskola and bassist Antti Lötjönen. Other players include the great Teppo (Teddy Rok) Mäkynen on drums, vibes, and percussion, and the Greek transplant to Finland George Kontrafouris on piano.

Just under 45 minutes in length, there are eight tunes on this wonderful set, three of which have appeared on 12" singles on Ricky Tick. The music ranges from straight-ahead soul-ish hard bop blowing to funkier (as in Horace Silver's sense of the word) Latin-flavored tunes and more. Lassy wrote or co-wrote everything here and arranged the session. "Early Move" comes rolling out of the gate with a killer rolling drum intro courtesy of Teddy Rok. When Lassy joined in for the head, it's a deep soul move with some sweet, knotty harmony arrangements on the other horns. Kontrafouris lays the groove deep in the cut and Lassy starts to solo, but goes on for only a couple of choruses before the entire horn section picks up the bluesy-funky theme. It's a stepper. This is tough, high-spirited soul-jazz just made for the dancefloor. But it's no revivalism move, either. There is plenty new that's going on here, especially in the arrangements. It swings like mad. "Live at the Timber Yard" begins with Kontrafouris in a deep, Cadet-era Ramsey Lewis groove, while the rest of the band cops a soulful arrangement that might have come from the knottier aspects of Lee Morgan's writing and Duke Pearson's early-'60s arranging. Lassy's tenor feel is laid-back against this vamp, but he's weaving notes in and out with a honking blues theme worthy of both Jacksons Willis and Fred. "The Call" has a wonderfully extended set of harmonics inside a swinging Latin motif, and Lassy uses his baritone and flute (to contrast with the horn contrapuntally on the head in call-and-response fashion). The brass instruments and Teddy Rok's drums kick it. When Teddy Rok and Lassy go head to head in the middle, it notches the intensity of the tune up a bit, and while played faster, it never, ever loses that sense of swing.

"Universal Four" is pure balladic spiritual soul-jazz, with beautiful vibes, percussion, and bass work from Lötjönen. It opens gradually, unfolding from the top, before the tune rolls out of the opened musical flower as the melody whispers itself in. "Wemdon" is a roaring Latin big-band-styled dance number with baritone, trombone, and trumpeter all playing a line against Teddy Rok and Lötjönen, who signals the end of each line with a single suave sliding note. Eskola's solo in this mad groove is brilliant. The next cut, "Sweet Spot," keeps the Latin bop flow going in the right direction with a nice tight arrangement by Lassy. The lone ballad on the set, "Love Moan," is as warm as a Ben Webster tune. Nuff said. It closes out on the intense funky "African Rumble," written by Lassy with Teddy Rok. It's on this final cut where it all comes pouring out of the mix: Lassy blowing, vamping, and exhorting the horns to follow him out, and Kontrafouris' beautifully extended chords in perfect time and harmony with Teddy Rok's vibes. The rhythm section doesn't just keep the groove — they push it and hard, and it's a breathless six-minute jam that's as much a finger-popper as it is an exercise in instrumental acumen. They keep the groove no matter what they are playing. The Soul & Jazz of Timo Lassy is certainly one of the auspicious debuts of the 2007 calendar year, and listeners don't have to wait for him to "fully develop" — whatever that means — because the cat's canny, young, utterly hip, and sophisticated as a player, sure, but also as a bandleader, composer, and arranger. Take notice, this is just the beginning; Lassy is coming on strong.

Customer Reviews

Helsinki is hott!

This is a great one from the trusty Ricky-Tick brand. Check out 'The Call', 'Sweet Spot' and 'Weldon' in particular. Actually, the whole thing's superb from start to finish. Seek out.

The Soul and Jazz of Timo Lassy, Timo Lassy
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