Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. Today we take a look at a dark, expansive new project on the horizon of jazz, released by Finland’s We Jazz Records.
Led by drummer Joonas Leppänen, Alder Ego are a fresh, dynamic quartet creating some of the most interesting jazz currently coming out of Finland. Despite being titled ‘II’, the record is technically their debut LP, as the album to which this serves as a numerical sequel was released last year under Leppänen’s name alone. If we had to draw parallels with music of the past, we would definitely say that there’re echoes of Miles Davis’ classic second quintet in Alder Ego. The fluid interplay between saxophonist Jarno Tikka and trumpeter Tomi Nikku vividly recall the mysterious, searching tonality of Wayne Shorter and Miles Davis’ playing together, although Tikka and Nikku do both play with their own individual styles throughout. The seven compositions here are engaging; they’re hard to predict, twisting and turning in a way which is snake-like in its volatility, whilst still managing to remain appealing even in the most abstract moments. ‘II’ strikes a happy middle ground between fastidious composition and that quintessentially-jazz spirit of improvisation. The instruments are sensitively voiced and played with a quiet confidence which ensures that no one musician hogs the limelight – the resultant album very much feeling like a group effort.
Released by Finish indie label We Jazz, this is a really very impressive release in multiple respects. We’re not familiar with the pressing plant used to manufacture the record, but if we were to guess, we’d imagine that it was made by a relatively small local factory. Regardless of where it was produced, however, one thing is strikingly clear: this is a really high quality slab of wax. The album is available on white and black vinyl, but we’re looking at the standard black edition here – although both should theoretically sound more or less the same. Upon removing the record from its printed inner sleeve (more on that later in the article), we did find a few bits of debris on the playing surfaces, but this was nothing that couldn’t be brushed away with ease. Playback is really clean across both sides, and sound remains impressively tidy even during the run-ins and silences between songs. That’s particularly fortunate here because much of the album is really quite quiet, meaning that any surface noise would rather kill the ambience. We found only a few stray background crackles across the whole album and not a single pop or click; meaning that this is quite a bit tidier than many recent records we’ve heard which were manufactured by far larger, more famous pressing plants. Fidelity is excellent across the board and, frankly, there’s really very little – if anything – we’d complain about with this pressing. A deeply impressive way to hear the album.
Packaging and presentation is quietly classy on this release. The cover is a single-pocket, standard-width sleeve and we have definitely seen similar sleeves printed on heavier weight card – having said that, it’s still solidly constructed and doesn’t feel flimsy. On the plus side, presentation is really tasteful here and there’s a nice finish to the package which gives it something akin to a layer of polish. The cover is textured, which makes for a welcome and subtle touch that lends the packaging a pleasing physicality. A hype sticker on the shrinkwrap not only gives a brief write-up about the album, but also includes the barcode. This is always a welcome decision as far as we’re concerned – keeping the barcode from being printed on the sleeve itself is a seemingly simple thing to do, but one that has a significantly positive effect on the overall art direction. Sadly, far too few labels seem to realise this, so it’s great to see We Jazz thinking things through and paying attention to details. A printed paper inner sleeve is included, featuring a colour image of Joonas Leppänen on one side, and surprisingly lengthy liner notes on the other. Those same notes begin on the back cover and continue onto the inner, in an addition which seems to hark back to a time when practically every album (especially, but not limited to, jazz releases) featured liner notes. It’s an interesting read that definitely helps the listener to understand the intention behind the album and it’s a welcome addition to the presentation. The label designs are also great here; they’re aesthetically slick, but more importantly, they also provide basic yet important information such as album side and track listing. Overall, then, this is a winner on the presentation front. The packaging is lent substance by the liner notes, and the overall art direction is classy and clean.
This is a great release from We Jazz. The music is really interesting, and manages to feel fresh whilst still paying due respect to great jazz of the past. This vinyl pressing really does justice to the nuances of the album and the presentation is highly commendable as well.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!