Finnish saxophonist Mikko Innanen has a new quartet, Autonomus, and they’ve made quite an emphatic opening statement — their first release, I-XXX, is a triple CD containing 35 pieces. The group also includes Norwegian pianist Håvard Wiik, Finnish bassist Antti Lötjönen, and Danish drummer Peter Bruun.
Innanen’s recording career goes back to the turn of the century; he’s made over 50 albums since 2001, with a vast array of groups, including his own recently disbanded large ensemble, Mikko Innanen 10+, and a trio with bassist William Parker and drummer Andrew Cyrille, the trio Plop, and the sextet Gourmet, which features the unconventional instrumentation of saxophone, trombone, tuba, guitar, accordion, and drums. He’s also a member of bassist Petter Eldh‘s Koma Saxo, covered here last summer.
Innanen wrote 40 new compositions for Autonomus. They’re all given Roman numeral titles (I, II, XVI, etc.), and occasionally they’re combined. Track 9 on Disc 1 is “III A + III B,” for example, and track 3 on Disc 2 is “IX A + IX B.” They were mostly recorded in single takes, and the music all flows together like a river, with a patient, collective aspect. Nobody’s trying to out-blow the other three; in fact, the group frequently subdivides — sax-piano duo passages pop up pretty often. There’s a level of abstraction here, tempered with deep emotional resonance, that puts me in mind of Anthony Braxton‘s mid ’80s quartets, but in a particularly mournful mood.
Innanen says in the press release that he wanted “to make music no one is leading. Every musician is their own autonomic unity that has its complete freedom to interpret the music I wrote in their own way, come what may.” Obviously, that’s the guiding principle behind a lot of serious jazz these days, and the only question is how to preserve that individuality while still creating a viable ensemble sound. He and his bandmates have done exactly that. Whether this will be an ensemble that lives on, or this is a thrilling one-off, is a reasonable question, but I won’t be at all surprised to see them on the bill of the 2020 We Jazz festival in Helsinki. In the meantime, stream the album below, or buy it digitally from Amazon (physical copies are hard to come by in the US). One piece of advice: you can shuffle it like a playlist and it’ll be just as beautiful as listening to it in sequence.