Though I dislike making sweeping musical generalizations here, I’m going to start off this post with a couple of them. If it can be said that many of the breakout acts in American jazz in recent years can be described as being heavily-indebted to hip-hop, r&b, and adjacent genres (think BADBADNOTGOOD, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, and more), then a lot of the more impactful jazz exports from Europe, particularly northern Europe, have seemingly been more indebted to influences from the electronic/IDM sphere, post-rock, and more. You have the likes of GoGo Penguin in England, who have certainly been pushing the definition of what jazz really is with their blend of acoustic jazz instrumentation and influences with more classical-style playing and heavy electronic influences. Norway’s Jaga Jazzist is, of course, the current reigning champion of blending jazz with electronic music (from IDM to synthwave and more), post-rock, krautrock, and far more. And to that list of great European bands finding new and interesting ways to explore the world of jazz fusion you can now add Finland’s VIRTA, whose sophomore album Hurmos is one of the more unexpected and brilliant albums I’ve heard this year.
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VIRTA are a trio consisting of Heikki Selamo on guitar, Erik Fräki on drums, and Antti Hevosmaa on trumpet/flugelhorn, and if that combination sounds like it should be rather limiting, you are in for quite a surprise! With a combination of expansive compositions, incredibly skilled and tight playing, and yes, plenty of effects, the group produce an incredibly deep and lush world of sound that is part Tortoise-like post-rock, part Jaga-esque skittery nu-jazz a la The Stix, and part Bitches Brew-like open-ended jazz fusion. While tracks like the above “About To Fly” and “Uni” lean more heavily on slowly building atmosphere and using Hevosmaa’s horn more as an ethereal melody floating above Selamo and Fräki’s post-y foundation, there are plenty of more tightly-wound pieces like “Time Travel,” which hinges on a slick guitar groove that could’ve easily been a Jonny Greenwood concoction for Radiohead. “Härmä” is a stunning middle ground between tight grooves and free jams as a beautiful lead melody and chorus give way to a knotty-as-hell extended solo from Hevosmaa.
Of course, almost all of this pales in comparison to the mechanical behemoth that is closing track “On the Run.” Right from the beginning Fräki’s drumwork produces a dizzying array of sounds and glitches that sounds perfectly suited for an Aphex Twin track. Selamo and Hevosmaa propel themselves off of that rhythmic foundation straight into the stratosphere for 6 and 1/2 minutes of pure bliss. I honestly have a difficult time explaining just all of what goes into that track because it’s almost overwhelming. One of the things I wish some of the artists who incorporate a lot of these outside influences, particularly on the electronic and dance end of things, would do more of though is just completely let go of whatever compositional restraint they’re holding onto and just go all out in a blaze of sonic madness. “On the Run” and Hurmos as a whole is just that, and it represents the best of what the freer, jammier side of jazz can bring to music.
Right now there are only the two tracks above and their debut album available on the band’s Bandcamp, but Hurmos is available in full through Svart Records on all of the other major streaming platforms. And you should most certainly show them some love on Facebook if you like what you hear!
EDIT 12/9/2016: Hurmos is now completely available to stream and purchase on the band’s Bandcamp!