In this day and age of conservatory-trained jazz musicians who have mastered their bebop or hard bob to perfection, it is refreshing to come across a group of young musicians who have an open ear to a broad range of musical influences and an interest in both the past and the present of improvised music and music in general. Ilmiliekki Quartet is such a group. Having chosen free improvisation as their musical language, they use it to assimilate all of their musical interests ranging from the masters of free jazz, such as Ornette Coleman and Kenny Wheeler, to the artistically more challenging representatives of today´s rock music, such as Björk and Radiohead. This first recording of Ilmiliekki Quartet embraces all of those musical influences while emphasizing the group´s own individuality. Verneri Pohjola himself says the following of the group and its music:
"Although we founded Ilmiliekki Quartet only in January 2002, the members of the group had by that time already known each other for a few years and had also played together in different connections.
Our music can be seen in the context of the musical category commonly referred to as jazz. We have, however, felt from the beginning that jazz as an exclusive framework would be too limiting for the many-sided melodic expression that we seek to achieve, and, therefore, we have willfully broken some of the rules set for traditional jazz expression. This is something that we find both broadly accepted and even commonplace also among the other young musicians that we work with.
We would like to think of our music more in terms of it being impressionistic or even romantic. The information overload forced upon us by this modern age makes it difficult to concentrate only on one particular style. As an antidote, we have began expressing ourselves, in part, through meditative improvisation and through mixing in our music those elements that each of us feels to be nearest to his heart. We seek to make strong music rich with feelings and melodies that will carry across musical categories. Also, we do not wish to create the perception that our music is something difficult to understand or to approach by calling it, for example, impressionistic free jazz or something of the kind. We would rather have each listener approach the music without pre-conceived notions of style or context.
I cannot find much more to say about our music but I hope that, in listening to it, you will find many more aspects to it. Perhaps, some that we were not even able to identify and appreciate ourselves!"
Originally established in January 2002 as a creative outlet enabling its members to pursue their extra-curricular interests, Ilmiliekki Quartet quickly became one of their principal composing and performing vehicles. Already in July 2002, Ilmiliekki Quartet participated in the Young Nordic Jazz Comets competition winning the first price with their eclectic mixture of compositions by the group´s members and tunes borrowed from a variety of sources, including all of those mentioned above. In October 2003, this was followed by the announcement that Ilmiliekki Quartet had been named as the Young Artist of the Year 2004 by Finland Festivals, the umbrella organization for Finland´s most important cultural festivals. Previously, this honor has been bestowed upon individual performers but is now shared by the entire group. Even though one should approach these kinds of accolades with healthy scepticism, in this case, they certainly evidence the fact that Ilmiliekki Quartet has garnered the fascination of both the public and the critics with great speed.
The name Ilmiliekki Quartet itself says much about the group. In an amusing parallel, the members of the World Saxophone Quartet used to tell their audiences how, initially, that groundbreaking ensemble was named the New York Saxophone Quartet but, after receiving a "cease and desist" letter from the lawyer for the classical saxophone quartet with the same name, chose to embrace in its name the whole world rather than just their hometown. The quartet performing on this recording was initially named "Liekki", a Finnish word meaning a "flame". After receiving their own "cease and desist" approach from a Finnish rock group with the same name, the members of the quartet faced a similar decision as the members of the World Saxophone Quartet more than 20 years ago. Their response was also similar in naming their group Ilmiliekki Quartet inasmuch as the Finnish word "ilmiliekki" can be translated to mean "open fire" or "full blaze". So, despite their tender age, these guys certainly have balls.
One important quality of Ilmiliekki Quartet is its openness. This is truly a cooperative of distinctive individuals with each member contributing their own compositions and bringing in their own ideas and influences to the group. As seems commonplace for many ensembles comprised of today´s young musicians, there are no leaders who dictate upon the others the direction to be followed.
The same spirit of openness can also be heard in the music. Superficially, one might feel that Björk and Ornette Coleman are incompatible as influences but that view would represent just the kind of a narrow-mindedness that the members of Ilmiliekki Quartet detest. In fact, one can safely assume that Björk is a fan of Mr. Coleman´s music and there is no reason to believe that the opposite could not also be true. So, why shouldn´t you, the listener, also open your ears to this new music, which reflects influences of the past and present but also offers something fresh and uncorrupted as brought to you by this young ensemble.