Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Timo Lassy - Round Two (2009)

A bit late out of the gate with this review, so stop me if you've heard this one before: Timo Lassy's got it goin' on. New to you, too? Thank me later. By the time you're finished reading this you'll want to get into Round Two, his second solo effort released last fall on Ricky Tick Records. It'll ring your bell.

You may know Lassy, the smokinist sax player of the red hot Helsinki jazz scene, from his work with Blue Note recording artist U-Street All Stars, the globe-trotting Five Corners Quartet and his solo debut The Soul & Jazz of Timo Lassy, naturally.

It's worth noting that Lassy also brought some heat to Nicola Conte's Rituals album, on which he made the acquaintance of José James, a jazz singer from Minneapolis whose voice lives up to its velvet reputation. James flew to Finland from none other than New York for Round Two's three-day recording session and contributes memorably on the swinging opener "The More I Look At You" and the cooker "Ya Dig."

While James makes his presence known, most of the set belongs to Lassy and his band, which is strictly A-list. Teppo "Teddy Rok"
Mäkynen kicks it behind the kit (as well as the mixing board, where he co-produced with Lassy). Jukka Eskola lets his trumpet do the talkin'. Georgios Kontrafouris tickles the ivories. Ari Jokelainen swings on alto sax. Mikko Mustonen lets it rip on trombone. Antti Lotjonen works a fleet-fingered bass groove. And Abdissa "Mamba" Assefa fills the beats in between on percussion.

At the center of it all is Lassy — a persuasive player, a confident composer and an assured arranger. While Lassy seems most at home in the hard-bop and soul jazz idioms, he seamlessly blends them with Latin jazz ("Shifting Winds," "Backyard Puma"), ballads ("Some Love"), tribal spirituals ("Deeper Into") and swing ("Fooling Rosetta," "Buzz Beater Stomp"). Clearly, he knows jazz tradition and, more importantly, knows how to breathe new life into them.

As retro as that might sound, Lassy's band sounds as contemporary as they come (but with a rootsy sensibility that never gets watered down). Moreover, they do it without resorting to trendy gimmicks or self-conscious experimentation. Mostly, I think ya'll dig the man's toe-tappin' tunes and his band's tuneful approach to improvising around them. You guessed right - Round Two is a knock-out.

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