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Jonathan Zwartz was commissioned by SIMA (Sydney
Improvised Music Association) to write a major composition, SUITE SUOMI, which was performed as part of
The Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival 2022
at the Seymour Centre on Saturday night. SUITE SUOMI was written to celebrate the extraordinary Finnish
musician, Iro Haarla, who performed on a concert harp and
piano for this major event of the festival.

Performing with Iro Haarla and Jonathan Zwartz (on double bass) were Jonathon’s long time collaborators: Phil Slater (trumpet), Julien Wilson (tenor saxophone), Ben Hauptmann (guitar),and Hamish Stuart (drums). These musicians are amongst Australia’s elite jazz performers and the

combination of Iro Haarla’s mystical artistry, Jonathon Zwartz’ sweeping composition and the players’ skill and creativity produced an inspiring and transformative experience.

Phil Slater and Julien Wilson have a sublime and complementary understanding that allows them, at times, to barely hint at the note they are producing and at other times fill the hall with overwhelming sounds. Hamish
Stuart on drums similarly ranges from gentle and delicate


Stuart on drums similarly ranges from gentle and delicate
to powerful and formidable and adds significantly to the well blended combination. Initially Ben Hauptmann’s guitar appeared under utilised but in the second half of the suite he made significant and telling contributions. His interplay with Iro Haarla on harp was a complex and inspirational conversation.

It was a great pleasure to be in attendance for the evocative musical journey of this performance of SUITE SUOMI.

The special guest opening performance of the evening was Claire Edwardes presenting Rhythms of Change.

Rhythms of Change was a COVID lockdown project, where female composers contributed an array of works on a variety of themes. A major aim of the project was to promote gender equity in this field
of the creative arts.

Claire Edwardes performed on marimba
and vibraphone. Her performance was skilful, captivating and a little quirky. Her performance of Bree van Reyk’s Slipstream included vibraphone, finger cymbal, pieces of snare wire and a bouncy ball. It was a delightful piece and absolutely
fascinating to watch.

The Sydney International Women’s Jazz Festival 2022 is at various venues until 5th November. Details at SIMA :

Featured image : Claire Edwardes. Pic by Shane Rozario. Both photos by Shane Rozario –


Iro Haarla

Ante Lucem


Die finnische Harfenistin und Pianistin Iro Haarla (sie spielt beides auf dieser CD) hat sich vor vier Jahren an ein längeres Werk für Sinfonieorchester und Jazzquintett gewagt, das sich aus vier einzelnen Teilen zusammensetzt. Dabei ist es ihr gelungen, die beiden sehr verschiedenen Ensembles so miteinander zu verschränken, dass tatsächlich ein eigener Klang entsteht und nicht nur zwischen Quintett- und Orchester-Passagen gewechselt wird. Es ist eine weitgehend melancholische, ruhige Musik, was aber nicht heißt, dass turbulente Eruptionen, bei denen Pauken und schmetterndes Blech eine Rolle spielen, ausgeschlossen sind. Auf der anderen Seite des Klangspektrums steht ein wieselflinkes Bass-Solo von Ulf Krokfors in „…And The Darkness Has Not Overcome It …“. Die Natur ihrer Heimat und persönliche Erinnerungen haben Haarla inspiriert und zu einer Musik geführt, deren individuelle Klasse auch in großer Sinfonik nicht verloren geht.


Rolf Thomas

, Jazz thing 115


Iro Haarla – Ante Lucem

Review Dave Foxall/ajazznoise.

Iro Haarla (piano, harp)
Hayden Powell (trumpet)
Trygve Seim (soprano & tenor saxophones)
Ulf Krokfors (double bass)
Mika Kallio (drums, percussion)
Norrlands Operans Symfoniorkester (Jukka Iisakkila conducting)

Songbird Chapel
Persevering with Winter
…and the Darkness has not overcome it…
Ante Lucem – Before Dawn…

ECM 2457  473 2371

It begins with a harp. That uniquely dry resonance that remains uncommon in jazz and improvised music. Yes, I know, there’s probably a list of jazz harpists on Wikipedia, from Dorothy Ashby to Alice Coltrane, Zeena Parkins to Clare Cooper, and so on… But, arguably, Finland’s Iro Haarla has shown the longest-standing devotion, placing the harp alongside the piano at the heart of her compositions since her 80s works with Edward Vesala.

This disc features a suite of four pieces, composed by Haarla, together emblematic of the daily and seasonal struggle between light and dark (literal and metaphorical/spiritual). The listener is left in no doubt that the light will triumph – a welcome message, perhaps, in these turbulent and uncertain times, no?

The arrangements are perfectly balanced: from sweeping drama to deep introspection, embracing the power of the large ensemble yet featuring moments of space and sparseness that do much to punctuate the proceedings, giving it air, and evoking the empty beauty of a Finnish winter landscape. It’s during these quieter passages that the jazz quintet shines through – pianistic flourishes, Powell’s pure tone, Seim’s unburnished warmth, the subtle insistence of Krokfors and Kallio’s engine – with brief periods of free-er playing that seem to occur more often the closer the dawn (and spring) approaches (notably the extended middle section of Ante Lucem: Before Dawn in which the quintet ‘breaks free’ for a few minutes; interesting symbolism.

This may be Haarla’s quintet, and feature some of the biggest names in Scandinavian jazz (cue the overused label, “Nordic Cool”) but it’s not overly jazz-y. Simply put, orchestral performances sound, well, ‘orchestral’ and this is an elegiac, mood-filled classical suite, with jazz flourishes and embellishments. Don’t expect too hard bop blowing or improvisation, just allow yourself to be carried away by its particular cinematic grandeur (especially the opener Songbird Chapel which has a delicious bittersweet melancholy).

Jazz Views with CJ Shearn

Iro Haarla: Ante Lucem (ECM, 2016)

Iro Haarla: piano, harp

Hayden Powell: trumpet

Trygve Seim: soprano and tenor saxophones

Ulf Krokfors: double bass

Mika Kallio: drums & percussion

Norrlands Operans Symfoniorkester  

Jukka Iisakkila, conductor


Finnish pianist and harpist’s Iro Haarla’s new release “Ante Lucem” (Before Dawn) is a richly evocative piece of music written for jazz quintet and symphony orchestra.  The composition draws upon the listener to imagine  dawn to dusk, ice blue skies, gentle sometimes furious winds, the beauty and the frigidity of the winter season as well as the struggles and triumphs we face as human beings.  Haarla dove headfirst into the music of drummer Edward Vesala following her  studies at the Sibelius Academy in Finland in piano/composition, and he is a key influence on her work. The composition  she’s crafted here is full of rich melody, fascinating textures, striking quintet interplay woven neatly into an orchestral framework provided by the Norrlands Operans Symforniorkester.


The quintet is top notch featuring trumpeter Hayden Powell, Trygve Seim on tenor and soprano saxophones, the leader on piano and harp, Ulf Krokfors; double bass and drummer Mika Kallio organically injecting improvisation between stunning orchestral moments.  Trygve Seim has appeared on twenty ECM discs, most recently bringing his full bodied horn to vocalist Sinikka Lagelund’s imaginative “The Magical Forest”, bassist Mats Eilertsen’s debut “Rubicon”, and his own,new, terrific “Rumi Songs” (the subject of a forthcoming review).  Seim contributes some of the most powerful moments on “Songbird Chapel” dedicated to Haarla’s mother, slowly crafting a solo of tremendous pacing, his gorgeous, huge tenor gradually building to a peak with staggering drums. A wall of increasing dissonance from the orchestra, musically illustrates the feelings of loss and grief  though orchestra breaks through grief with a brighter declarative statement.  The sound of the chilly season is more than amply explored on “Persevering With Winter” sweeping, whirring percussion imitating fierce wind, wood blocks emulating the crisp snap of a fire place.  Warmth and comfort is introduced by Haarla’s welcoming piano line, before the sense of struggle is reprised through Seim’s growling, swooping tenor saxophone  sparring with Powell’s trumpet, stabbing trombones, pounding piano tone clusters underneath them.  The vocal, gutteral sonorities of Seim and Powell recall the spirit of pre bop era  jazz in an osmotic fashion. Once the conflict dissolves, tenor and trumpet triumphantly state a melody exuding hope.  Powell is well showcased on the third movement “…and the Darkness Have Not Over”, Kallio’s drums, echoing and responding to his lines in a spiraling freefall.  Seim’s strongest solo of the set comes at the end of the movement, with passionate soprano saxophone over soaring harmony and the drummer’s dancing straight eighth cymbal work.  Though Haarla indicates in the liners the four movements are loosely linked, there is thematic continuity throughout that nicely ties “Ante Lucem” the fourth and final movement to the shimmering sunlight grace of the opening of “Songbird Chapel”.


Iro Haarla’s “Ante Lucem” is remarkable for the manner in which it effortlessly uses the orchestra and quintet, with no clear lines between ensemble and improvised passages.  Typically pieces for large ensemble and jazz groups have composed sections followed by solos, in the more traditional manner, and Haarla succeeds with an endlessly captivating hour plus suite that wonderfully conveys both nature and human experience.


Rating 9.5/10


Magi mellom lys og mørke

Tor Hammerö

Den finske pianisten, harpisten og komponisten Iro Haarla har sammen med symfoniorkester og jazzkvintett skapt unike stemninger. Det skader så avgjort ikke at Harald og Sonja har sendt Hayden Powell og Trygve Seim som fargeleggere heller.


Iro Haarla er en stemningsskaper av de sjeldne.

Iro Haarla (59) har vært en sentral skikkelse i finsk jazz i mange tiår. Hun både jobba og var gift med legenden Edward Vesala som gikk bort i 1999. Siden har hun gått videre og de seineste åra hatt et nært forhold både musikalsk og personlig med bassisten Ulf Krokfors. Bortsett fra det så har det vært svært mange norske musikanter i hennes band: Jon Christensen, Mathias Eick og Trygve Seim har alle vært viktige bidragsytere til hennes musikk i en årrekke.


Kvintetten med Hayden Powell og Trygve Seim og det svenske symfoniorkesteret.

I 2012 spilte Haarla inn sitt kanskje aller mest ambisiøse verk noensinne. Hun skrev det fire satsers storverket "Ante Lucem" for symfoniorkester og jazzkvintett og sammen med Seim og den "nye" trompeteren Hayden Powell og finske Mika Kallio på trommer og perkusjon og Krokfors på bass og med svenske NorrlandsOperans Symfoniorkester under ledelse av Jukka Iisakkila, møttes de i Umeå i Sverige i oktober og det er den seansen vi får være med på her.

Haarla har skapt vakre, sterke, dramatiske, melankolske, både lyse og mørke stemninger og landskap og hun framstår som en stor orkestrator. Hun er finsk og det bærer heldigvis musikken hennes preg av - det er ikke mye cubanske rytmer her for å si det slik. Når så både Powell og Seim, som har samarbeida med Haarla i vel 20 år nå, nok en gang framstår som så inderlige og personlige solister som vi veit de er på sitt beste, så har "Ante Lucem" - som betyr før soloppgang - blitt et storverk som Iro Haarla kommer til å leve godt med i all si framtid. Det har hun i alle fall all mulig grunn til.


Iro Haarla

Ante Lucem



Iro Haarla ‘Ante Lucem: For Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Quintet’ (ECM) 3/5

by ukvibe

This largely symphonic live recording is taken from commissioned pieces for the 2012 October Jazz Festival in Umeå, Sweden, and brings together the piano and harp playing of leader Iro Haarla, in demand saxophonist Trygve Seim and others in tandem with the NorrlandsOperans Symfonieorkester, conducted by Jukka Lisakkila. Fans of classical music will enjoy the music here as
much as fans of chamber jazz and the four lengthy pieces vary between fifteen and almost twenty minutes. In general the musical tone is mournful and this is attributable to the recent passing of Haarla’s mother who was an opera singer. Different seasons are evoked in the numbers and these include, ‘Perseverence with winter’, which evokes the time of hibernation. The bowed double bass of Ulf Krokfors comes to the fore here with piercing strings and crashing cymbals. On ‘Songbird chapel’, the Debussy-esque tones impress with harp in the background. Introspection is to the fore on this most recent ECM release and once again it cuts across musical boundaries which pretty much typifies the whole ECM ethos.


Iro Haarla: Ante Lucem for Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Quintet

September 3, 2016
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Finnish pianist/harpist/composer Iro Haarla devoted the early part of her career to the music of her then-husband, the late drummer/composer Edward Vesala. On her own she has released two quintet albums on ECM: Northbound (2005) and Vespers (2010). That quintet (with a couple of personnel substitutions) is integrated into an extended composition with symphony orchestra on Ante Lucem. Trumpeter Hayden Powell (in place of Mathias Eick) and saxophonist Trygve Seim are on the front line, joined by double bassist Ulf Krokfors, drummer Mika Kallio (in place of Jon Christensen) and the leader on piano and harp.

"Integrated" is definitely the word. The piece consists of four separate, but linked pieces, the jazz players part of the musical flow with the orchestra. While the quintet is featured, it does not alternate passages with the orchestra as is common in jazz + orchestra projects. This is not a "Concerto for Jazz Quintet and Symphony Orchestra." The opening "Songbird Chapel"is dedicated to Haarla's mother, who was an opera singer. The composer sets the tone with her harp, followed by a haunting melody for saxophone and trumpet which is taken up by the strings. Seim's lyrical saxophone solo marks the first major improvisational contribution from the quintet.

"Persevering With Winter" is about the long winter season in the North, the time of hibernation and a long period of darkness. It opens with ominous orchestral texture, finally broken by Haarla's piano. The rest of the band joins in with melodic material, and the string accompaniment expands to include the full orchestra—finally exploding into a theme which recurs at the close of the piece, a thrilling moment. Seim contributes a lovely obligato solo over the repeat. ..."and the Darkness has not overcome it..." continues the winter theme, the light overcoming the darkness and making the cold disappear. Seim's plaintive solo saxophone opens, joined by Powell's trumpet, then piano and strings. Powell takes center stage (joined by brass and strings) before giving way to a bass solo from Krokfors, then more trumpet with rhythm section—one of the most extended quintet passages in the piece so far. It all finally builds to a triumphant conclusion with quintet and orchestra.

"Ante Lucem -Before Dawn..." brings the set to a close with a piece that the composer says "describes the Passion. It begins on Holy Thursday in the garden of Gethsemane. The piece ends on Easter Monday with the resurrection." But there are no direct references to religious or liturgical music. The movement can be heard just as convincingly as a trip from darkness to light, the struggle that forms the theme for the entire album. Seim's saxophone again takes the lead as a voice calling out in the darkness, and the quintet plays a roiling segment of what sounds like free improvisation depicting a violent scene, made even more intense by orchestral interjections. The final orchestral section is both calm and triumphant, befitting the subject.

Ante Lucem is a moving experience, rich and majestic. It will surely reward multiple listenings. The piece was commissioned by the Norrlands Opera Symphony Orchestra and its leader Marco Feklistoff and premiered at the Umeå Jazz Festival in October 2012. This album was recorded in the same concert hall (the Concert Hall of NorrlandsOperan) on the following day.

Track Listing: Songbird Chapel; Persevering with Winter; ...and the Darkness has not overcome it...; Ante Lucem - Before Dawn.

Personnel: Iro Haarla: piano, harp; Hayden Powell: trumpet; Trygve Seim: soprano and tenor saxophones; Ulf Krokfors: double bass; Mika Kallio: drums, percussion; Norrlands Operans Symfoniorkester, Jukka lissakkila, conductor.

Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: ECM Records

Selected reviews:

Iro Haarlas "Ante Lucem" - Eine Suite über den Kampf zwischen Dunkelheit und Licht

Mit "Ante Lucem" hat die finnische Pianistin, Harfenistin und Komponistin Iro Haarla ein absolut beeindruckendes Werk für Jazz-Quintett und Sinfonieorchester geschaffen.

© Maarit Kytöharju/ECM Records Iro Haarla

Entstanden ist "Ante Lucem" als Auftragskomposition des Norrlands Operans Symfonieorkesters und seines Leiters Marco Feklistoff. Die Uraufführung erfolgte im Oktober 2012 im Rahmen des Umeå Jazz Festival.

Aufgenommen wurde es von Haarla bei dieser Gelegenheit im Konzertsaal der Norrlandsoper von Umeå sowohl bei der Premiere als auch bei weiteren Sessions in den darauffolgenden Tagen mit dem Trompeter Hayden Powell, Saxophonist Trygve Seim, Bassist Ulf Krokfors und Schlagzeuger Mika Kallio sowie dem von Jukka Iisakkila dirigierten Norrlands Operans Symfonieorkester.

"Was 'Ante Lucem' von anderen Kollaborationen mit Sinfonieorchestern unterscheidet, ist die bemerkenswerte Verflechtung der beiden Ensembles", schrieb John Kelman von All About Jazz damals in einer Konzertkritik. "Hier gab es keine alternierenden Passagen für das Orchester und das Quintett, obwohl Haarlas Ensemble reichlich Raum für Features erhielt. [...] Stattdessen durchlief die Suite, deren Ziel es ist, über die ruhige Zeit zwischen Monduntergang und Sonnenaufgang zu reflektieren, ein weites Feld von Metaphern und Emotionen... Haarlas Kompositionen bewegten sich von mahlstromartiger Turbulenz zu tiefer Melancholie und schließlich jener sanften, sich der Stille annähernden Schönheit, die zu Beginn eines jeden neuen Tages so viele Hoffnungen in einem weckt. Die Performance war stets eindrucksvoll und provokativ - gleich ob das ganze Orchester dramatischere Wendungen vollführte oder dieses in kleinere Ensembleeinheiten aufgespaltet wurde."

"Ante Lucem" besteht, wie Iro Haarla in ihrem Begleittext zu dem Album erläutert, aus "vier separaten, aber eng miteinander verbundenen Stücken": "Songbird Chapel", "Persevering With Winter",  "…And The Darkness Has Not Overcome It…" und "Ante Lucem - Before Dawn". Jede dieser Kompositionen beschäftigt sich auf andere Art mit dem "Kampf zwischen Dunkelheit und Licht" und "unsere irdische Wallfahrt durch Leiden sowie das Überwinden von Schwierigkeiten".

Die Eröffnungsnummer "Songbird Chapel" widmete die Komponistin dem Andenken an ihre Mutter. Das Stück ist geprägt von Haarlas starkem Harfenspiel und einer schwermütigen Melodie, die zunächst von Saxophon und Trompete vorgetragen, aber schon bald von den Streichern aufgegriffen wird. Haarlas Musik ist oft von der Natur inspiriert, von ihrer Unbarmherzigkeit genauso wie von ihrer Schönheit. Der Titel "Persevering With Winter"  spricht für sich selbst: "Es ist eine Allegorie für den Winter im Norden... die langanhaltende Dunkelheit und die klaren, frostigen Tage... die nordischen Winde, die gnadenlos am Horizont entlangfegen". Im abschließenden Titelstück "Ante Lucem - Before Dawn" gibt es schließlichh einen überraschenden Szenenwechsel zum Garten von Getsemani...

Nyansrikt mellan mörker och ljus

Foto: Illustration: Cajsa Holgersson

Skivrecension Jan-Erik Holmberg

7.9.2016 07:00

Ljus och mörker präglar Iro Haarlas nya skiva, som gör hennes mångskiftande tonvärld ännu mer tillgänglig.


Iro Haarla

Ante Lucem


Pianisten och harpisten Iro Haarlas musik klingar i all sin glans då jazzkvintetten möter och fusioneras med Norrlandsoperans symfoniorkester som leds av Jukka Iisakkila. I kvintetten spelar Trygve Seim (saxofoner), Hayden Powell (trumpet), Ulf Krokfors (bas) och Mika Kallio (trummor).

Av skivans fyra kompositioner har åtminstone titelspåret Ante Lucem hörts live vid flera tillfällen, exempelvis då UMO firade 30 år och i fjol då storbandet fyllde 40.

Har man följt med Haarlas musik under det senaste decenniet är den direkt igenkännlig. Tonsättarens karakteristiska sätt att leda harmonierna framåt på ett avvaktande och otvunget sätt hörs även nu, trots att det stora orkesterformatet ramar in växlingarna tydligare. Skivan kan därför vara ett tillgängligare inlopp till Haarlas mångskiftande tonvärld än till exempel den Jazz-Emma-premierade och internationellt prisade Vespers (2011).

Kampen som röd tråd

Ante Lucem har ett genomgående ämne – kampen mellan mörker och ljus. Det är lätt att höra detta i de olika delarna. Men trots den svartvita grundtematiken blir det som så ofta i det levande livet: olika belysning ger talrika skiftningar.

Songbird Chapel, som inleder skivan är en mycket ljus komposition. Haarla inleder med harpa över fjärran skimrande stråkar. Seims tenorsaxofon och Powells trumpet framför det enkla huvudmotivet som uppbackat av stråkar tidvis kan föra tankarna till Hollywood, men egentligen är det väl bara samma till exempel franska och ryska tonsättare som spökar både här och i äldre filmmusik. Frånsett Seims milda improviserade solopartier är denna del närmare klassisk konsertmusik än jazz.

Persevering with Winter är mörktonad på ett vankelmodigt sätt. Lyssnaren får vara beredd på många omkast under de drygt nitton minuterna. Kluster och friare tonalitet trivs i vinterdunklet liksom den kontrollerade kakofonin, då kvintetten förefaller improvisera kollektivt mot symfonikernas tonmattor.

... and the Darkness has not overcome it ... inleds av Seims ensamma klagande sopransaxofon. Efter några minuter kommer både kvintetten och orkestern med och stämningen svänger totalt. Det är ett stort ögonblick som bör avnjutas med tillräcklig volym. I en dialog mellan Seim och Powell fortsätter stycket växa till oanade mått för att avlösas av Kallios och Krokfors dialog, som går i den andra riktningen. Detta är de stora kontrasternas musik, en dynamisk berg- och dalbana som tar oväntade strukturella svängar och närapå överbelastar mottagaren med intryck.

I Ante Lucem – Before Dawn berikas arrangemanget av stråkarna. I storbandsversionen är det mest klarinetter och flöjt. Stycket pulserar tidvis i takt med Kallios intensiva trumkomp och är vid sidan om ett avsnitt i det föregående stycket skivans mest rakt-på-sak-jazz efter en lugn första del. Seim och Powell utför kollektivt solo och svängen utmynnar i ett trumsolo av Kallio. I epilogen avrundas sviten då lugnet åter inträder, för att slutligt fullbordas med styrka.

Jan-Erik Holmberg

All About Jazz:

Iro Haarla Quintet: Vespers



It's been six years since Iro Haarla released Northbound (ECM)—while not her actual debut as a leader, certainly her first with international exposure—an album of remarkable beauty that cemented the Finnish pianist/harpist/composer's position as the silent voice behind the music of her late husband, drummer Edward Vesala. There's no denying the import of Vesala's work for ECM, beginning with 1976's Nan Madol—truly a momentous album that spoke, in cinematic terms, of the landscape and culture of Finland—but, equally, a fundamental shift occurred, with the arrival of Haarla on 1987's Sound and Fury, that spoke to the impact that the young, classically trained Haarla had on the drummer's writing. Since Vesala's death, in 1999, it's become public knowledge that Haarla's input to his music was beyond significant, and the credit she is finally receiving rights a decades-old wrong, with a reformed Sound & Fury tribute band, featuring alumni from Vesala's flagship group, crediting Haarla by performing her music at the 2010 Tampere Jazz Happening. 

Haarla's been far from inactive since the release of Northbound, touring with an all-Finnish version of the all-star Scandinavian band on the recording, and working with another Finnish legend, saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen, on Conclusions (Tum, 2009), and a 2010 Tampere Jazz Happening performance. Vespers shares plenty with Aaltonen's disc. Both discs feature her current husband Ulf Krokfors—known amongst ECM fans for work with Vesala, and the sadly overlooked Krakatau, and for shifting his name from Uffe to Ulf, seemingly at will—a bassist as capable of holding down a groove on the simmering "Satoyama" as he is anchoring the rubato "A Port on a Distant Shore" with minimal but ever-perfect and muscular choices, as Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen paints with a strong emphasis on cymbals over drums. Both discs also feature her "The Shimmer of Falling Stars," here dropped a number of keys, and played with a broader sense of temporal freedom. 

Haarla's piano work is, as ever—and like her quintet's—the epitome of economy, never playing a series of chords when one beautifully ambiguous one will do, but it's her unparalleled harp work that gives much of her music its sweeping sense of the cinematic. Haarla's music doesn't just evoke the visual, however, it's actually possible to feel "The Warm Currents of the Sea," as Seim and fellow Norwegian, trumpeter Mathias Eick—two players who, in their remarkable timbral control, perennially favor quality over quantity—weave in, out and around each other, coming together in magical moments of synchronicity over the quietly turbulent foundation laid by Haarla, Krokfors and Christensen, only to dissolve and depart again, as Haarla takes a solo of shimmering beauty. 

Northbound may have been more immediately impressive for its unexpected combination of tranquil stasis and gentle forward motion, but Vespers is the perfect follow-up, one which capitalizes on both the strength of Haarla's compositional conception and the stunning perfection of a group of distinct and individual voices—most, leaders in their own right—who join together to create a collective sound truly like no other.

Track Listing: A Port On A Distant Shore; Vesper; A Window Facing South; The Warm Current of the Sea; Doxa; Satoyama; The Shimmer of Falling Stars; Returning Home; Adieux.

Personnel: Iro Haarla: piano, harp; Mathias Eick: trumpet; Trygve Seim: saxophones; Ulf Krokfors: double-bass; Jon Christensen: drums.

Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: ECM Records




Iro Haarla Quintet
ECM Records


By Thomas Conrad

Iro Haarla is a Finnish pianist, harpist and composer who had a long and diverse career before she released her ECM debut, Northbound, in 2006. In its rapt, forceful quietness, it was one of the memorable jazz albums of that year. The Finnish/Norwegian quintet on Northbound has been reunited for Vespers.

Trumpeter Mathias Eick, tenor/soprano saxophonist Trygve Seim and drummer Jon Christensen are the Norwegians. They suit Haarla’s songs because they are all patient and inquisitive and capable of selfless dedication to ensemble atmosphere. Finnish bassist Ulf Krokfors is a long-term Haarla associate. He provides shifting contexts from which the other four players venture. Eick, one of the most poetic players to enter jazz in the new millennium, has described Haarla’s music as “difficult” and “demanding.” But there is no sense of strain here, as the players float in the free air of Haarla’s open forms and postulate their own ideas and evolve them.

Haarla’s aesthetic is quintessentially Nordic in its lyric starkness and autumnal solemnity. But her harmonic language, in its subtly discordant voicings, is distinctive, and so is her willingness to leave her emotional and spiritual ambiguities unresolved. Haarla’s slow pieces, full of silence, are moods suggested by their titles (“A Port on a Distant Shore,” “The Shimmer of Falling Stars”). They are also vistas within which Seim and Eick have time and space to extend their forays, together or apart, and come to revelations. Haarla selects her own moments with care: single-note lines on piano as gentle interjections, or light sweeps on harp creating pinpoints of background light. Few jazz artists are as successful as Haarla in creating a world, a scope of feeling, and making it their own.



Juhani Aaltonen & Iro Haarla: Kirkastus

By Raul da Gama 


The renowned Finnish saxophone player, Juhani Aaltonen – known for many things, not the least of which is a significant musical relationship with the late Finnish drummer Edward Vesala and his younger duet partner (no less renowned) Iro Haarla, also known for many things, not the least of which is a significant musical relationship with Vesala – have come together to create one of the most magisterial performances on record in recent times. Kirkastus (Glorification) is musical champagne, not in the sense of being bubbly, but of deliciously rolling off the senses. The album of Haarla’s music – partially composed and largely improvised – is actually more sacred than profane with all but four of the pieces based on the Book of Psalms. Each piece is a polished, gleaming gem, each of the improvising musicians finds a golden timbre and fleet elegance, and as a result the whole performance is one of statuesque beauty.


The preternatural silences of the moments before Evening Prayer are broken by the musicians who enunciate the prayer with lines of profound beauty. You will marvel at how the big tenor saxophone tone of Juhani Aaltonen can whisper so softly. You will also be mesmerised by how gently Iro Haarla converses, as if in prayer, with the tenor, her magical, balletic fingers dance on the keyboard with airy grace and charm. And so it continues with subtly different ways through the repertoire as the musicians inform every musical gesture with luminosity and utter splendour. Every note, every phrase and line becomes something so precious to the ear that there is an I irresistible urge to hang on to the sound of each note as it unfurls in the room, then fades and dies to be replaced by its memory. Each musician’s interpretation of the music is grand and spacious, enhancing, if that’s quite the right word, an underlying feeling of statuesque movement where revelations abound. Once drawn in through Evening Prayer, you are beholden to the music through Kirkastus, Nightjar and Farewell to Valomäki, until the programme comes to a close with a soaring interpretation of Psalm 61 – Lead Me to the Rock.

This music although composed by Iro Haarla is close to the heart of Juhani Aaltonen. The saxophonist had a spiritual awakening deep into his musical vocation and spent much time playing in churches and for worship alone until he was coaxed back into the realm of jazz and free improvisation late in the 1990s. Here Aaltonen brings a measure of both his predilections. Both on saxophone and flute Aaltonen plumbs the mysterious depths of sacred music, which is certainly something present in these compositions. His tonal colour basks in sheer colour and variety. Iro Haarla too delights in the spiritualism that the music embraces. Her performance is characterised by the exceptional range of feeling and of refinement in pianism. Both musicians rejoice in urbanity and joyous lyricism. This is a glorious recording. Simply glorious. Even if your shelves are packed with sacred music, Kirkastus is one disc to absolutely die for.



2012 Umea Jazz Festival: Umea, Sweden, October 24-28, 2012



October 25: Iro Haarla / NorrlandsOperans Symfoniorkester

Following an entertaining Midgårds Jazz Festival evening that featured local students with mixed results, Umeå 2012 got off to a particularly strong start with a commissioned piece from Finnish pianist/harpist Iro Haarla. Written for symphony orchestra and the quintet which has released two marvelous recordings on ECM-2005's Northbound and 2011's Vesper-what distinguished it from other symphonic collaborations was its remarkable integration. This was not a case of alternating passages for orchestra and quintet, though there were plenty of feature spots for Haarla's group, including original members, Finnish bassist Ufe Krokfors band Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim (himself a successful leader on ECM since 2001), alongside newcomers, Norwegian trumpeter Hayden Powelland Finnish drummer Mikko Kallio, replacing founding members Mathias Eick and Jon Christensen, respectively.

Instead, this 70-minute suite, intended to reflect on that quiet time of day between moonset and sunrise, traversed a great range of imagery and emotion. Haarla's contributions to ex-husband Edward Vesala's Sound and Fury have been documented plenty, but it bears reiterating how influential she was on the late Finnish drummer when she joined the group for Lumi (ECM, 1986). That her compositional contributions to Vesala's music went uncredited at the time was, in retrospect, absolutely unforgivable, but the great news is that in the years since Vesala's death in 1999, her work has become more visible, both through her ECM recordings and in contexts like the 2010 Tampere Jazz Happening, where a reunited Sound and Fury group performed a set subtitled "The Music of Iro Haarla."

Haarla's ability to create floating stases with turbulent underpinnings reflected a similar approach to her days with Vesala, but now clearly attributable to the pianist/harpist, who played with great care and concentration, creating tension-filled ambiguities for her group and in this case, the NorrlandsOperans Symfoniorkester, conducted by Jukka Iisakkila. But even when a sense of controlled chaos reigned-made all the more dramatic for having the palette of a large orchestra at her disposal-Haarla's irrepressible lyricism remained fundamental throughout.

Seim was, as ever, a marvel of patient melodic development, his unique ability to bend notes (stemming from studies of ethnic instruments in the Middle East) turning one particular a cappella moment, early in the performance, into a highlight all the more powerful for its understatement and restraint. Powell, a mid-twenties trumpeter who has been garnering increasing attention, changed the complexion of Haarla's quintet considerably with a more burnished, brassy tone that contrasted with Eick's softer, more breathy embouchure. Together with Seim, he created a more powerful and, at times, piercing presence, as capable of strong thematic ideation as he was more outré concerns.

Krokfors first gained attention in the late '80s/early '90s Finnish group Krakatau, which also included intrepid guitarist Raoul Bjorkenheim and released two fine albums for ECM, Volition (1992) and Matinale (1994). Since that time, Krokfors has developed considerably as a bassist. His Umeå performance-as an accompanist, but particularly as a soloist, where he demonstrated a deep, robust tone, rare dexterity and, like his band mates, a concise sense of focus- was even more impressive than his 2010 Tampere Jazz Happening set, playing (along with Haarla) in Finnish saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen's fine quartet.

Like Powell, Kallio may not be well-known outside his country, though his performance with saxophonist Markus Hollko at Tampere Jazz Happening 2010 was certainly notable, and hopefully the exposure of working with Haarla will achieve greater international attention for both players. Kallio's ability to combine Christensen-like textural free play with a more definitive temporal sense when required, made him an ideal fit for the group, and one which will undoubtedly continue to change its complexion over time.

Haarla's writing moved from maelstrom-like turbulence to deeper melancholy and, ultimately, that gentle silence-approaching beauty which evokes so much promise at the start of each and every day. Whether it was more dramatic turns with the full orchestra or breakdowns into smaller subsets-such as a late-set trio with Krokfors, Seim and, on harp, Haarla-it was an evocative and provocative performance. The good news is that it was recorded, along with sessions over the next two days (in the same room, but without an audience). As it turned out, according to Seim later in the week, the majority of the best recordings came from the live show-no surprise, given the rapt audience's enthusiastic energy and response-so hopefully there will be a release of this project sometime soon.



Juhani Aaltonen & Iro Haarla: Kirkastus

Published: November 27, 2015
Views: 2,843

The most striking thing about Kirkastus—a duo outing by a pair of seasoned Finnish free jazzers, saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen and pianist/harpist Iro Haarla—is the unalloyed beauty of the sound they've made. Aaltonen, in his eighth decade now, has the longer term veteran's credentials. His saxophone style draws from late period John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, with moments of growling and feral roars, subdued and refined here, and set beside moments of reverie and introspection and nuanced story-telling, with the occasional classy and gracious "Ben Webster (of Duke Ellington Orchestra fame) woosh," sounding like he's letting the soul of the saxophone free to greet the day. 

But the saxophonist is only half the duo. The pianist side of the team, Iro Haarla, wrote all the tunes; and Kirkastus—as democratic as the the instrumental inputs are—seems like Iro Harla's disc. 

Haarla began her career in earnest in the late 70s accompanying Finnish drummer Edward Vesala. It was a musical and marital relationship that lasted until the drummer's death in 1999. She has since brought her own artistry to the forefront, with two marvelous recordings on ECM Records, Northbound (2006) and Vespers (2011), as well as contributing as a sideperson on TUM Records sets by Aaltonen and bassist Ulf Krokfors, in addition to her leader recording on TUM, Kolibri (2014). 

On Kirkastus, Haarla's classical-informed piano melds to perfection with Aaltonen's saxophone. The pianist often employs a spare approach in her ensemble work. In the duet she uses a lusher, angelic sound, on piano as well a harp. Haarla's compositions draw inspiration from her spirituality, specifically Biblical Psalms. The music sounds like an existential search for truth and beauty, not unlike the Coltrane's quest that veered in a more serene direction when Alice Coltrane entered his life and music. 

The set's title tune, "a celebration of the glorification of a human being—the victory of the light of love," is perhaps the "freest" segment of the set with Aaltonen's most powerful playing. "Farewell to Valomaki" is the saddest tune on record since Keith Jarrett laid down a version—in duet with bassist Charlie Haden—of Gordon Jenkins' "Goodbye." And "Lead Me to the Rock," inspired by Psalm 61, is tranquility, achieved via the artists' consummate skills combined with the spiritual underpinnings that build a stand-on-the-rock foundation for this gorgeous music.



Juhani Aaltonen and Iro Haarla



5 February 2016


Juhani Aaltonen and Iro Haarla are, by all respects and through all means, two masters of their craft. To see the names side-by-side on a record in full collaboration with one another would be enough to have any free jazz aficionado in awe, but it’s in the sheer breadth of sounds that they each encompass here that makes it a should-listen for all. A now octogenarian Aaltonen’s saxophone styles have not missed a beat in the decades that he’s been contributing to the jazz scene, and he plays altogether with the layers of poise and passion that he has from the beginning in tandem with Haarla’s pensive work on the piano that she has been gracing since the 1970s. The melding of these two forces comes across as nothing more or less than an existential journey, the experimental humanity of Aaltonen’s sax melding together with classically-trained Haarla’s piano to create a series of dense worlds to inhabit and ideas to discover, with flute, harp, and percussion lending itself to the crafting of this ethereal experience well.

Performance of "Ante Lucem", a composition for jazz quintet and orchestra at the Umeå Jazz Festival:


Bengt Hultman.


 Vacker, uttunnat men också förtätat var det när Iro Haarla Quintet framförde nyskrivna orkesterstycket Ante Lucem tillsammans med Norrlands synfoniorkester.


Ante Lucem
Iro Haarla Quintet och Norrlandsoperans symfoniorkester.


Jazzfestivalen i Umeå är igång och konsertsalen var i stort fullsatt när symfoniorkestern, tillsammans med Iro Haarla Quintet, på torsdagskvällen uruppförde ett specialskrivet stycke Ante Lucem av Iro Haarla. Kvintettens grundare Iro Haarla och är en mycket mångsidig musiker, som trakterar flera instrument, och är dessutom en spännande jazztonsättare sett ur ett europeiskt perspektiv. Unikt är också att kvintettens övriga musiker alla är kompositörer, flertalet med en koppling till både jazz och klassisk repertoar. Här pendlar kvintetten med sina erfarenheter i olika genrer, något som berikar så att säga ”båda sidor”.

Dirigent vid uruppförandet är Jukka Lisakkila med stora framgångar i Finland och andra länder. Vi har hört Norrlandsoperans symfoniorkestern vid flera tidigare jazzfestivaler och det känns helt följdriktigt att man hittar den i generalprogrammet då vi i Umeå har ett kulturklimat med både bredd och djup.

Ante Lucem, som betyder Före Gryningen, är ett verk i fyra satser och vars byggstenar håller två viktiga komponenter, varierande klangfärger och ständigt utförda långsamma rubaton, ett rytmiskt förhållningssätt som faktiskt också återfinns i den klassiska pianorepertoaren.

Den första satsen – Perservoing with Winter – har ett statiskt kännetecken med långa linjer av klanger och färger och egentligen kan alla fyra satser sägas vara uppbyggda så. Det svängde långsamt och överraskade oss med kraftfulla eruptioner.

Uffe Krokfors häpnadsväckande och intensiva passager på kontrabasen var inte bara en ljudupplevelse utan också en syn för ögat. Trygve Seim hanterar olika saxofoner och med sin jämna, sammetslena ton förtrollar han publiken med sin närvaro.

Hayden Powells klara och säkra trumpetsolon ljöd skarpt och Mika Kallio kunde varierat nyttja sin slagverksuppsättning. Kvintettens grundare Iro Haarla växlade mellan flygeln och harpan. Hon är en sublim musiker och en verklig tonestet.

Ante Lucem är ett mångfacetterat orkesterstycke, där jazzensemblen stundtals fick en obligat roll, även om ett genuint samspel med symfoniorkester utväxlades. Jukka Lisakkila gav stöd åt en välspelande symfoniorkester, som numera behärskar de utmaningar som nyskrivna verk alltid skapar. Det musikaliska spektrat i verket är imponerande och utmejslandet av rubaton med individuell frihet hos jazzmusikerna framträdande.

Det är vackert, uttunnat men också förtätat.



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