The Markus Pesonen Hendectet doesn’t waste time with small talk. Right from the start, Hum slams the listener with a barrage of instruments and batters the ears with waves of free jazz dissonance. Skronking and barking saxes indelibly mark their territory, and everyone else flexes their muscles as a sign that they have the woodwinds’s backs. It’s an intimidating start to an album that is far more substantive and complex than first impressions would indicate.
Your album personnel: Markus Pesonen (guitar, lapsteel and compositions), Elena Setién (voice, violin), Adam Pultz Melbye (bass), Camilla Barrat-Due (accordion), Marc Lohr (drums, electronics), Otis Sandsjö (alto & tenor sax, clarinet), Martin Stender (tenor & soprano sax, flute), Lars Greve (tenor & soprano & baritone sax, bass clarinet), Tobias Wiklund (trumpet, flugelhorn), Petter Hängsel (trombone), and Jonatan Ahlbom (tuba).
Second track “Hullun Paperit” isn’t anything that will make the neighbors to call the cops, but it’s not exactly white tablecloth fine dining either. Low steady drone of instruments, an indication of a melody, but not one from this planet. Violin peeks out from between warped notes and makes things pretty here and there, but then darts back behind the curtains, leaving the ears waiting for more.
Third track “Sugar Rush” is an interesting detour, a composition that would be at home as a soundtrack to a 007 flick… a scene of undercover spies chasing each other across a packed casino hall, bullets flying, identities changed, a brief pause to the flurry of conflict just long enough to order a martini and light the leggy blondes cigarette.
The title track “Hum” makes sure you didn’t start thinking it was all fun and games. If the opening track was a wave of dissonance, then for this track, it’s a cement block… lots of ’em. This isn’t a song one listens to so much as withstands.
And then “Reliever”, which holds up to its name with a peaceful respite of soft persuasion to continue on.
Pitch and volume increase as the song reaches its conclusion, but not sufficiently to erase the sense of having entered an eye of the storm.
And then the album really goes through the changes. It begins with a ridiculous awesome cover of the classic Charles Mingus tune “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”. Flute winds tight circle around languid violin lines. It’s faintly reminiscent of the Mingus version (he recorded the tune on several occasions) that he recorded for his album Four or Five Shades of Blue. When the saxes and rhythm section enter the picture, they do it swinging. The soul of Mingus is here and is his compositional lunacy, and Pesonen doesn’t give any impression other than his love and respect for both.
The song “Space Race” begins as a bit of avant-garde replete with electronic effects, but then transmutes into a pretty ballad, though without shedding the odd effects and electronic flourishes. Even when saxes start to show signs of roughhousing, the tune doesn’t lose that essential softness. It’s quite a pretty tune, even if it’s an unconventional type of pretty.
The album ends with a brilliant cover of the Beatles’ “Day in the Life”. Elena Setien turns a nifty phrase and, thankfully, does try to oversell the lyrics. Most people that cover the Beatles (in any genre) almost inevitably leave me missing the original badly…. not here, though. This was, in retrospect, a natural cover song for this ensemble to record; a great excuse for them to blast a few more waves of sound, though not without flirting with a mash-up of some New Orleans jazz along the way. Honestly, they just sound like they’re having a blast playing this song, and this, on an album that gives the impression they had fun recording the entire damn thing.
Finnish guitarist and composer Markus Pesonen has assembled eleven musicians from the Copenhagen and Berlin scenes, and together they created this tiny little masterpiece. Hum is an album that challenges the ears as often as it gives comfort, if not more. It’s a very exciting development anytime a new voice on the jazz scene puts forth an uncompromising recording of his or her vision, with a display of confidence and high musicianship. Just outstanding.
Released on the Unit Records label. Jazz from the Copenhagen and Berlin scenes.
Available on Emusic.
Also, available on Amazon: