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Natural choices

Verneri Pohjola

Trumpet player Verneri Pohjola swapped record labels to release ”Bullhorn”, his boldest and most accomplished artistic statement to date.

”Playing music is actually about not making choices”, Verneri Pohjola says. ”I just try to follow my instinct and play what comes naturally. The conscious thought process is something which might obstruct the free flow of improvisational ideas.” 

Here is a man who lives up to his principles. When his co-operation with the mammoth German jazz label ACT Music didn’t live up to expectations, Pohjola opted for a way out and soon found himself being part of the roster of the UK-based Edition Records, one of the strongest up-and-coming independent jazz labels in Europe. 

The result is Bullhorn, a solid home run of an album which Pohjola himself describes as his most mature work yet. This fits with the statement on the CD liner notes in which Pohjola, now 37, states that he has been viewed as a ”young musician” for the past 20 years. This, then, feels like the beginning of a new phase on his career. 

”I think in many ways Bullhorn is my most coherent album to date. I usually compare my new releases to Aurora [Pohjola’s first solo album released in 2009], and on Bullhorn I feel like the essence of the album is stronger and perhaps less obviously visible than before, so it feels like a more complete piece of work to me. I also learned that it’s good to trust a person who knows best, in this case Dave Stapleton who runs Edition Records, who insisted on having the album finished months before the release in order to have enough time to plan the promotion and create the ‘buzz’.” 

Judging from the audience reaction, the plan has indeed worked. The Verneri Pohjola Quartet comprising of Pohjola, pianist Aki Rissanen, bassist Antti Lötjönen and drummer Teppo Mäkynen, played three release shows in Finland, all of which were capacity-filling triumphs with the Helsinki gig at the main stage of the Finnish National Theatre attracting some 600 spectators making it one of the biggest jazz album release concerts in Finland recently. 

”It was great!”, Pohjola enthuses. ”I view the Helsinki concert as a ritual in which the album was officially celebrated and christened into use. When I think of that night I don’t concentrate on how big the event was but rather on the warm feeling which had a lot to do with the people but also with the very special venue. I only feel that I would have had more time to enjoy the feeling – it all went by so fast and I flew off to do the next gigs the following morning.”

Pohjola feels confident about the fact that the release is now out in the world, locked into position and uncontrollable to the artist in terms of the use people give to it. 

”I’m very happy about sharing the music and I think the strong qualities of the album will persist. Of course we can’t say yet how time will treat this music, but I feel good about it. For a musician there’s always room for improvement but this time around, there are not too many things I would like to change.” 

New contexts and changes

Pohjola is known as a multifaceted artist who constantly comes up with new contexts for his music and being a musician. Is the focus going to change now with the new version of the Verneri Pohjola Quartet and the lauded new release? 

”I think that I’m one of those musicians who could not only play their own music. The perspective with which I approach other people’s music is very different than when I play my own compositions, so it makes my musical world much richer and helps me grow as a musician. Sometimes I try to look at my own compositions from the outside and occassionally it works out, but that usually only happens with older compositions. When composing, there’s usually not that much room to think about how to play my own music, it’s hard to stay outside of yourself.”

Growing as a musician has had its concrete effects on the trumpeter’s musical thinking and identity.

”I no longer have the need to be able to play everything. Or the need to think that I will be able to do something ‘one day’. I have realized that life happens here and now. I practice now as much as ever, but essentially it’s all about accepting yourself as who you are and not hiding behind the ‘if’ of things.” 

This also relates to the recent change of record labels. 

”ACT didn’t feel like home to me and didn’t want staying there to become something I would regret later so there was only one possible choice. Of course it’s still never easy to make such a decision.” 

One striking thing about ”Bullhorn” has been the tidal wave of praise from the press both in Finland and internationally. A recent review by Jazz Journal presented the album with full five stars and claimed that they could ”easily award more”. 

How does it feel? 

”Well, of course it makes me smile”, Pohjola says. ”The only thing I can really say about it is that the way this band sounds to me and how it treats my music, it would have been disappointing if other people would have missed that somehow. Naturally it also gives me more leverage career-wise. I hope this album will carry me a long way and that we would get to perform more outside of Finland, as well. The sideman gigs and the soloist spots are great but now the main thing for me internationally is to present my music with the best possible ensemble to perform it, which is the Verneri Pohjola Quartet.” 

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