Unisono Quartet/ Taivaantemppeli: Jazz-Liisa 1&2 (Svart Records)

Reissue of cult Finnish jazz/prog doyens casts a light on two brilliant, unheralded outfits

Released May 8th, 2016 via Svart Records / By Norman Miller
Unisono Quartet/ Taivaantemppeli: Jazz-Liisa 1&2 (Svart Records) For many folk, their musical education benefited greatly from the diverse BBC sessions recorded by the late great John Peel. And here is an intriguing Nordic riposte from the past.

Between 1972-77, Finland's national radio station YLE (Yleisradio) recorded 36 sessions at Helsinki's Liisankatu studios, showcasing a host of artists mainly ploughing distinctive furrows in Finnish jazz and prog-rock, playing before a live audience of 100 lucky locals.

Long locked away in dusty archives, Svart Records are giving us a chance to hear some of the best sessions, kicking off with eight (two per album) recorded in 1973 and 1975. Numbers 1 and 2 in the series focus on two jazz outfits, Unisono Quartet and Taavaantemppeli (Temple Of Heaven in Finnish), recorded a few months apart in late 1973.

One man stars in both bands – and, listen up folks, bassist Markku “Make” Lievonen is an undiscovered European jazz genius. Of Unisono Quartet's four tracks here, his sole writing credit - Incarnation - stands head,shoulders and very tall hat above the others. Building from a reflective piano intro (played by Olli Ahvenlahti), its middle section matches jagged keyboard licks with Paroni Paakkunainen's gonzo baritone sax, before the fiery frenzy eases into a freewheeling piano and bass finale.

Before that, of Unisono's other three tracks only Totuuden Aarreaitta (Treasures of the Truth) hits the spot with a great Miles-influenced section weaving sax, Fender and bass - though the track starts badly with a dire drum solo.

Lievonen left Unisono soon after this session to take the helm at Taaivvantemppeli. And here he seems to have blossomed dramatically courtesy of a musical canvas drawing on congas (Tapani 'Nappi' Ikonen), Matti Jakola's flute, plus piano and Fender (Olli Ahvenlahti again), Upi Sorvali's drums, and Pekka Rechardt's electric guitar - plus his own electric bass work.

The musical timbres are wonderfully different. Congas, bass and flute rip into the Weather Report-style Tamakki Sano, enlivened by John McLaughlin-influenced guitar flourishes and a gorgeous Fender that starts off lazy then builds in enthralling fashion.

Africa-meets-Native America-meets-avant jazz for the bold opening of Totem Dance, which chucks a dozen short discordant musical strands at us until, nearly four minutes in, bass and Fender grab the reins with a lolloping deceptively simple riff around which other instruments spin a magic web.

The closing Lisa is a thing of reflective beauty over its 15-minute length, at times echoing Keith Jarrett at his melodic best. This is brilliant music by a forgotten star, and I for one will be seeking out Lievonen's eponymous 1977 solo debut.