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“Few jazz artists are as successful as Haarla in creating 
a world, a scope of feeling, and making it their own.”


Ante Lucem, a powerful work for jazz quintet and symphony orchestra by Finnish pianist/harpist/composer Iro Haarla, was commissioned by the Norrlands Opera Symphony Orchestra and its leader Marco Feklistoff and premiered at the Umeå Jazz Festival in October 2012.  It was recorded at the Concert Hall of NorrlandsOperan in Umeå, and the album is drawn both from the premiere concert and from sessions on the following days. Ante Lucem was subsequently mixed in Stockholm by Torbjörn Samuelsson, Manfred Eicher and Iro Haarla.

In a review of the Umeå Festival for All about Jazz, John Kelman pointed out that “what distinguished [Ante Lucem] 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 (…) Instead this suite, intended to reflect on that quiet time of day between moonset and sunrise, traversed a great range of imagery and emotion…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, it was an evocative and provocative performance.”

Ante Lucem is comprised, Iro Haarla explains in her liner notes, of “four separate yet closely linked pieces”: “Songbird Chapel, “ “Persevering with Winter”,  “…and the Darkness has not overcome it…”, and “Ante Lucem – Before Dawn”. Each of these compositions, in different ways, reflects upon the “struggle between darkness and light” and “our earthy pilgrimage through sufferings, and overcoming difficulties.”

The opening “Songbird Chapel”, with stark harp and a mournful melody for saxophone and trumpet soon taken up by the strings, is dedicated to the memory of Haarla’s mother. 

Much of the inspiration for Haarla’s music comes from nature, its relentlessness as well as  its beauty.  The title “Persevering With Winter” means what it says: “It’s an allegory for winter in the north…the long period of darkness, and clear frosty days…the northern winds which sweep mercilessly over the horizon.”  In the closing title track “Ante Lucem - Before Dawn”, the scene shifts to the Garden of Gethsemane…  

Born in Tampere, Finland, in 1956, Iro Haarla studied piano and composition at Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy, then put her own creative ambitions on hold as she devoted herself to the music of Edward Vesala (1945-1999).  Haarla was orchestrator and arranger of much of the music played by Vesala’s Sound & Fury band, as heard for instance on the albums Lumi, Ode To The Death of Jazz, Invisible Storm and Nordic Gallery. In going on to present her own music to the world, she has had the continued support of musicians previously associated with Vesala. Foremost amongst these is Ulf Krokfors, the former Sound & Fury bassist. Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim played with Vesala in the mid-1990s, and credits the drummer/composer as a formative influence.  

Ulf Krokfors and Trygve Seim appeared as members of Haarla’s quintet on two previous releases, Northbound (recorded 2004), and Vespers (2010). Bassist Krokfors previously recorded for ECM with Vesala on Ode To The Death of Jazz and on two albums with Raoul Bjkörkenheim’s band Krakatau (Volition, Matinale).    Saxophonist  Seim has played on many ECM discs including, this season, his own Rumi Songs, as well as The Magical Forest with Sinikka Langeland and Rubicon with Mats Eilertsen.  

On Ante Lucem the Haarla group is completed by Hayden Powell, the British-born and Norwegian-raised trumpeter, whose work with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra and as leader of his own trio has received critical praise.  Finnish drummer Mika Kallio played with Ulf Krokfors in pianist Samuli Mikkonen’s trio in the late 1990s. Kallio has worked with virtually all of Finland’s leading jazz musicians and with international improvisers including Tomasz Stanko, Wadada Leo Smith and John Zorn. 

The Norrlands Operans Symfoniorkester grew out of what was originally a military brass band, formed in 1841. The string section was added in 1974. The Orchestra took on its current form and formal status in 1991 and has undergone significant development over the past 35 years. Conductor Jukka Iisakkila  studied with Jorma Panula, Martyn Brabbins and Esa-Pekka Salonen. He has won many awards and given numerous first performances of works by contemporary composers.    

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