IMAGINE....... a vast landscape... panning around to take in distant mountains, forests and luminous skies... and a cinematic soundtrack portraying an ever-changing vista of climatic conditions... daybreak, sunlight, rainstorm, quiescence, afterglow...
This third outing from Oddarrang - `In Cinema' - sees them building significantly on their previous releases, `Music Illustrated' and `Cathedral'. The Finnish five-piece's precise sound is delightfully difficult to define - maybe `experimental jazz', perhaps `new age' or even `folk jazz'. And, intruigingly, the shifting timbres and hues are created by a refreshingly atypical instrumental line-up: the masterly and lyrical lead of trombonist Ilmari Pohjola and cellist Osmo Ikonen soloing over strong-yet-sensitive layers of guitars, bass, synths, piano and harmonium. Composer/producer Olavi Louhivuori (also known for his work with the Tomasz Stanko Quintet and Alexi Tuomarila Trio) presides on drums as well as keyboards, his authoritative percussion a key element of the band's identity.
The `new age' tag comes from comparisons I can make with the early output of Mike Oldfield - the repeated guitar lines, percussion and plaintive melodies of third track `Missing Tapes from a Highway Set', for example, reminiscent of `Hergest Ridge' or its seminal predecessor `Tubular Bells'. But this is no imitation, for it lives and breathes by its own strengths - a hugely distinctive sound palette with a terrific sense of dynamics and intricacy; compositions often growing in intensity, such as Lasse Sakara's guitar-led ticking timebomb of `The Sage' which eventually explodes in dazzling full colour.
Newly-released single `Self Portrait' is a joy to hear up-close, opening with a beautifully legato cello/trombone melody against a delicate wash of synths, sustained guitar chords and cymbals, before upping the tempo and crescendoing to a vocal, guitar-crashing conclusion. The potency of this (to my knowledge) unique line-up is that acoustic and electronic instrumentation melds so pleasingly and effectively - frequently it's tricky to discern the overall make-up of the sound... which, to my senses, is a great achievement! Trombone and cello lines are so ravishingly executed, yet the sum of parts is where this album succeeds.
The misty, folksy beginning of the curiously-titled, eleven-minute `Cultivate & Contemplate' finds Pohjola and Ikonen in elegiac mood, whilst guitar and percussion again introduce and develop the band's characteristic anticipatory momentum. `Journey' explores the full range of Oddarrang's expertise, the pulsating intro giving way to a serene interlude before finally rocking it up to fever-pitch intensity, Louhivuori thunderously pushing the limits, electronics enhancing the play-out. Bassist Lasse Lindgren provides the writing for the slumberous final number, `Quiet Steps' - a charming bell-like melody which suggests, at the close of our journeying, a darkening firmament revealing constellations as far as the eye can see.