Lithe, git-go ensembles field near-set pieces of unusual form and filmic dimension, ply panache and wit through a masterful kaleidoscope of meters and voicings: welcome to the not-too-wild-but-still-kinda-crazy world of Mika Pohjola! The Finnish pianist as genial drillmaster paces his tightly-wound unit through maneuvers classically conceived and jazzily executed. Pohjola's complex, widely varied 'extended compositions', 1/2 to 2/3 composed, afford solo flights on a tether, guitarist Ben Monder and altoist Miguel Zenon spinning fresh ideas in the realm of 'melodic rhythm', where groove follows melody. "Future Apparent" builds breathless, odd-metered phrases over choppy changes; after development, Zenon spills fluid lines and Dani tiffs at his wide kit. Pinging guitar/piano interplay over ostinato 5/4 rhythm opens "Landmark" and stretches into dramatic tremolo phrases as alto enters the midtown traffic fray. A dramatic, playful 15-minute centerpiece, "Announcement" opens with hammered-piano punctuated by rhythm, then terse alto/guitar statements and ripping solos by all. "Young In The 80s" starts reflectively but skids into a giddy, accelerating, self-mocking shuffle with tambourine, skiffle alto and singed 'arena-rock' guitar. Calm interludes break up the hilarity. "Now Came To Us" pairs alto and guitar in eerie 3/4 unison, "Movements in Style" flows from music-box piano into a dreamy alto/guitar line and a haunting "Ballad About Something" leaves us posing strange questions.
Fred Bouchard, All About Jazz-New York
Featuring saxophonist Miguel Zenón, guitarist Ben Monder and bassist Fernando Huergo, this eclectic jazz-fusion quintet led by Mika Pohjola released its aptly titled studio album, 'Landmark,' in 2002. Featuring this first rate New York-based lineup, 'Still Alive' is a one-night unedited live recording captured on their tour in Europe. It documents the talents of each musician, but moreover it highlights the incredible stability and rapport of the group as a whole. This release contains the entire two-set concert of selections from Mika Pohjola's crafty and visionary pen. While Landmark could be characterized as a multiple-keyboard album and a carefully arranged concoction, 'Still Alive' expresses the spirit of the band in real time.