Mika Pohjola
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Mika Pohjola

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"Down Beat"

Born in Finland and now residing in New York City, jazz pianist Mika Pohjola has been the recipient of some conspicuous attention these days. A stylist who possesses enormous chops, Pohjola delivers the goods in prominent fashion with his latest Trio release, recorded live at New York City's infamous "Blue Note" venue. And with bassist Matt Penman and drummer Roberto Dani, Pohjola also intimates an affinity for suspenseful evolvement via his cunning predilection for reconstructing rhythms and previously stated motifs.
The pianist is a stickler for compositional form yet is prone to elaborate on micro-themes that further enhance or perhaps, provide an added dimension of depth to the overall scope of these enticing works. On "Relax In The Sun", Pohjola concocts a Caribbean vibe while Dani and Penman infuse traces of Latin, Reggae and Calypso rhythms that invoke resplendent imagery of an iridescent tropical sunset. Here, the pianist articulates lyrically rich passages via huge block chords commingled with faint doses of harmonics, fragmented lines and flailing crescendos.
Mika Pohjola is a young talent on an upward spiral. Sparked by a skilled rhythm section, the pianist pronounces a highly literate jazz vernacular yet counterbalances some of the austere implications with buoyant interplay and airy lyricism that provides an indelible stamp of authenticity to this fine outing. - Glenn Astarita

"All About Jazz"

One of the great young pianist/composers of our time performed at Bruno's recently but only a dozen people were there to hear him. Admittedly, 29-year-old Mika Pohjola, from Finland but now living in New York, is not exactly a household name. But he certainly deserves to be, at least in jazz households.
Pohjola plays piano with a delicacy and care that is a pleasure to watch and hear. He has a light touch on the keys and expends a minimal amount of energy caressing them, coaxing subtle melodies and motifs out of an imaginative array of thematic materials. He is a pianist well-suited to the intimate confines of Bruno's nightclub.
In an hour-long set that seemed much shorter Pohjola, bassist Todd Sickafoose and drummer Mark Ferber explored classics such as Bill Evans' "Turn out the Stars," Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now" and George Shearing's "Conception," as well as several of Mika Pohjola's sophisticated and evocative originals.
As great a pianist as Pohjola is, he may be an even better composer. His music is adventurous, evocative, intriguing and covers a wide range of styles while never steering too far from jazz. His pieces are frequently quite rhythmically and harmonically sophisticated, featuring unusual time signatures and chord selections, making them some of the tougher challenges many jazz musicians are likely to encounter. But they never become dry, abstract, technical exercises - these pieces are full of life and intrigue. Many of them are impressionistic in the Debussy/Ravel mode. Others are quite simple, such as the lovely ballad "Mood 4:30 am." And others, such as "Young in the '80s," a 10/4 country/punk/jazz tune, and the multi-rhythmic "MikaSonik Theme," adventurously incorporate challenging rhythms with folksy thematic materials in a style reminiscent of Charles Ives, Bela Bartok or Igor Stravinsky.
The Pohjola originals played that night included, "Old Manhattan Tango," "Screen Play," "A Ballad About Something" (which was originally called "A Ballad About Nothing"), "Kids' Song," and the "MikaSonik Theme," a quirky, driving signature tune that manages to explore a variety of unusual rhythms (8/8, Bulgarian 11/8, a 4/4 march) in just over 30 seconds.
With a half-dozen CDs filled with his compositions, Pohjola is steadily accumulating an impressive body of work. If you'd like to check him out, a good start is Mika Pohjola Live at the Blue Note (2000 Change Records), a September 1996 date with Matt Penman on bass and Roberto Dani -- a remarkable concert in which his style was already quite fully formed. The trio is joined by guitarist Mick Goodrick on Pohjola's myths & beliefs (GM Recordings, 1996), and by saxophonist Chris Cheek on On the Move (MikaMusik, 1997) and on Announcement (MikaMusik, 1998). Pohjola shows his skills as an accompanist on a duet recording with singer Johanna Grussner Hur man radar karleken & annat Grussner/Pohjola (YLE, 2000) - although the tunes are in Finnish (I believe) and a translation is not provided, they are quite evocative, reminiscent of early Joni Mitchell. Pohjola has just released Sound of Village (Splasch Records, 2001), a duet of free improvisations with Japanese percussionist Yusuke Yamamoto. And later this year he's set to release MikaSonik. - Dave Roberts


AMG EXPERT REVIEW: Finnish pianist and composer Mika Pohjola is a modern day jazz stylist and innovator who has assimilated the entirety of the jazz tradition -- and much of the early 20th century classical one -- and turned it on its head with an individual voice that swings deep, wide, and melodically. With his trio that includes bassist Matt Penman and drummer Roberto Dani, this immigrant New Yorker composes a music that is equal parts hard bop, swing, and post-bop modalism, with more than a little of Debussy and Ravel thrown in for measure. Tracks like "A Farmer's Dream" showcase the intricate harmonic structures Pohjola is capable of erecting and executing even at dizzying tempos. His extrapolation of the blues in creating an 11/8 sprint of augmented chords and bright shimmering ostinatos is gravity defying. Later, on "Relax in the Sun," a gentle Latin swing rhythm accompanies his exploration of Bill Evans' harmonic ideas based on minor sixths and flatted ninths. But the heart and soul of Pohjola's playing is in the set's closer, "Mood, 4:30 a.m." Elegiac and pastoral at the same time, Pohjola's pianism is filled with lyrical heart and moving washes of unpretentious classical soul à la Scriabin and Olivier Messiaen. This is one hell of a live record by a talent who deserves to record regularly for Blue Note as well as play the club. - Thom Jurek


ON THE MOVE (1997)



Pianist-composer Mika Pohjola has for the past six years been part of a very vital jazz scene that exists in downtown Manhattan. Pohjola has assembled a crackling, flexible crew that can easily run the gamut from odd-metered Zappa-esque romps to soothing, romantic ballads, from searing rock-fueled jams to lilting lullabies.
While much of the music here is quite demanding, this skilled unit navigates Pohjola's tricky meters and intricate unison lines with seasoned aplomb. And though it may be strictly composed and meticulously arranged material, there is still plenty of room within these structures for the soloists to blow, notably guitar monster Monder and the pungent-toned alto burner Zenon.
With his seventh cd release, Landmark, which features MikaSonik, Pohjola strikes an appealing balance between heady architecture and heartfelt improvisation. (--Bill Milkowski)