“Legend of the Cranes”
Birds have long been a source of inspiration for pianist and composer Iro Haarla, not just for their song and their beauty, but for their remarkable qualities of adaptability in the face of adversity. So it’s no surprise that her 2013 sextet release Kolibri (TUM) would contain three compositions that honor the avian species, including the title track, which takes its name from the spectacular kolibri, or hummingbird. Haarla nods to another noble bird with the epic “Legend of the Cranes,” included here, her six-piece band of Finnish jazz all-stars in essence tracing the trajectory of the migrating birds. Beginning with a gathering of the flock, the instrumentalists’ low rumbles and squawks soon give way to a smooth, gliding unified sound as they take flight in harmonious post-bop unison. Jari Hongisto’s trombone yips like a lovesick crane, which becomes even more pronounced as our flock runs into turbulence, represented by a free jazz section, with Verneri Pohjola’s trumpet and Kari Heinilä’s tenor saxophone engaged in chaotic free fall. The band lays out for Pohjola’s lonely trumpet solo — crying, wheezing, desperate — before the band reemerges to continue the journey on fairer headwinds as they return to the theme, the birds persevering as ever. As throughout, the rhythm section provides stellar support and propulsion, Haarla’s piano, Ulf Krokfors’ bass and Markku Ounaskari drums adding layers of drama of the piece.