Ilmiliekki Quartet

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If you’re hungering for a taste of jazz with that perfect balance of traditional and progressive sensibilities, you’re in luck this evening. At five bucks, you just can’t get a better deal than Helsinki, Finland’s Ilmiliekki Quartet, to say nothing of the fact that this’ll probably be your only chance to see the group for several months if not longer. All four players bring impeccable chops to their instruments --- trumpet, piano, acoustic bass, and drums -- but that alone wouldn’t be enough to declare this one of THE can’t-miss jazz shows happening in the city tonight. What distinguishes Ilmiliekki (which means “great fire” in Finnish) is the way it applies its mastery of traditional vocabulary to a truly individual writing style. Watching the band (which I did last night for a show-stealing performance at the Rochester International Jazz Festival), at times you could close your eyes and think you’d fallen into a Blue Note time tunnel and landed in the pre-bop era, just at the precipice of when downtown jazz artists were starting to push harder on the envelope but still reveling in being listenable --- until the unmistakable aroma of uniqueness begins to bubble up through Ilmiliekki’s silken grooves. With startling command of subtlety and dynamics, the group drapes a cool, almost easygoing mood around its playing while it ignites a blaze with its hands. Bassist Antti Lötjönen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori in particular generate some serious sizzle in their attack while never intruding on the music’s elegance. If there’s an award out there for the drummer with the best soft-touch-to-ass-kick ratio, Louhivuori must surely be in the running. The guy simply dazzles, adding all sorts of flourishes to the rhythm while grooving hard and never sounding busy, really pushing the music without once hitting too hard or loud. And yes, the band covers Tom Waits and Radiohead, but gets even more visionary with its own originals and strikes gold with an elegiac take on Ornette Coleman. The guys are also fun. They dress like office temps just off work and are quite at ease making a crowd feel at ease.

Ilmiliekki Quartet
Scandinavia House
58 Park Avenue (between 37th and 38th Streets)
7:30pm, $5 ($3 members)
(212) 879-9779

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