[27 June 2011]
On Kuara, Finnish jazz drummer Markku Ounaski and his talented bandmates—pianist Samuli Mikkonen and trumpeter Per Jorgensen—offer minimalist interpretations of a handful of Russian psalms and folks songs linked to the Finno-Ugric peoples. According to the album’s press materials, “Kuara” means “sound” in the Udmurt language, and it’s best to approach this album as a soundscape rather than a typical jazz record. Ounaski, Mikkonen and Jorgensen’s sparse, abstract arrangements barely hint at the simple folk melodies. This slow-moving, pastoral music evokes the wide open spaces of the Ural region that today is home to most of the Finno-Ugric communities. Kuara is filled with overwhelmingly lugubrious songs; achingly beautiful, mournful melodies flutter through the ether and disappear in an instant courtesy of Mikkonen’s delicate keyboard touch and Jorgensen’s Miles-esque trumpet tone and gorgeous singing. As with most folk music, each song’s melody sticks largely to one key. The improvisations, however, are what make this great jazz music. They dance around the key, providing a perfect balance between playing “in” and stepping “out”. With Kuara, Ounaski and his mates have created a consistently interesting and inspired work of new jazz.