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. For today’s instalment, we’re jazzing things up with an upcoming release from Vinyl Corner favourites We Jazz Records.

The Music:

For those familiar with the group, the prospect of new material from the Ilmiliekki Quartet is likely to produce quite some excitement. Wildly unprolific by anyone’s standards, new effort ‘Land Of Real Men’ is only the fifth album by the group since their formation in 2002. Their previous two outings – released last year and a decade ago respectively – saw the typically instrumental group collaborate with vocalist Emma Salokoski. Their latest outing, then, marks the first non-collaborative effort from the group since 2006 – not an inconsiderable gap between albums, that’s for sure. Fans of subtle, intelligent modern jazz will be more than happy with the produce of that long wait, as ‘Land Of Real Men’ marks one of the best releases yet from Finnish label We Jazz. This is music where rhythms skitter and tumble atop one another and melodies interweave – it’s the sound of a band revelling in the sheer frisson of the creative process. ‘Land Of Real Men’ resembles classic bop in the sense that the various instrumentalists typically allow each other ample space for their respective solos, but it’s also more than that. There’s definite avant-gardism here, very much in the modern sense of the phrase. The record opens with the group’s interpretation of Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ and while their reading is certainly recognisable as having some links with its source material, there’s so much rhythmical complexity added to the piece that it takes on a wholly different timbre. The rest of the record – totalling an hour or so of music – carries on in that spirit whilst still retaining a definite sense of variety. It speaks volumes to the quality of the group’s performances that ‘Land Of Real Men’ was recorded live in front of a paying audience. The end result feels more like a studio album – there’s no trace of the audience’s presence and the sound quality is excellent – but the dynamism and energy of a live recording certainly comes through in spirit.

The Pressing:

When assessing the quality of any pressing, it’s important to remember the nature of the music in question. In terms of jazz it’s obvious that the intensely loud work of someone such as, say, Peter Brötzmann, is going to be easy to press to clean vinyl due to its potential to mask imperfections. The Ilmiliekki Quartet, in contrast, produces work that is deeply dynamic. By its very nature, their music has a lot of quiet portions and, as such, any imperfections in the vinyl pressing have the potential to come through more clearly. Even with that in mind, however, this is a very solid pressing from We Jazz. We’ve reviewed a good number of their previous vinyl releases and have always been impressed by their quality control, so this isn’t a surprise by any means. The noise floor is very minimal here; the primary benefit of this is, of course, the fact that the aforementioned quiet periods can resound without any unwelcome interruptions. In addition to this, we’re also pleased to report that sound remains free of pops or clicks across all four sides. While we did pick up on a few background crackles here and there, these are both errant and minimal enough not to distract from the music itself. Physically speaking, the records are roughly mid-weight slabs of black wax. Both LPs included in our copy sit flat on the platter during playback and visual inspection reveals them to be clean and free of blemishes.

The Packaging:

There’s a sense of strongly coherent artistic direction across the full body of work that We Jazz have released so far. Each of their albums shares a certain style and aesthetic, even if the core visual components are disparate from release to release. This is certainly enough to guarantee that their titles always boast classy presentation and ‘Land Of Real Men’ is no exception. The cover itself is great quality; a well-constructed gatefold hewn from textured cardstock, it feels really pleasing and solid in hand. The sleeve is sharp and in-focus in regard to both the print quality and the colour palette. The artwork – full  of cool, muted shades – fits the tone and mood of music with vivid accuracy. The label designs continue this thread of understated efficiency with layouts that unmistakably err on the side of minimal. There’s no track listing but side lettering is clearly marked out, which is certainly useful. The records are slipped inside generic, non-polylined white inners from new – as always in cases such as this, we would recommend swapping these out for polylined sleeves to keep vinyl condition optimal. There are no inserts included, but none are needed as the inner gatefold spread is made excellent use of through an essay about the album and a track by track rundown with input from the group. Presentation is really impressive here and continues We Jazz’s excellent track record in this regard.

Final Thoughts:

We Jazz Records have produced another classy, stylish release with ‘Land Of Real Men’. Ilmiliekki Quartet’s performance is excellent and the vinyl release of the album is also really impressive, both from an audio perspective and in regard to the quality of the presentation.

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 martin.leitch@gigsoupmusic.com – it would be great to hear from you!

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