Iro Haarla Electric Ensemble - What Will We Leave Behind - Images From Planet Ear [Svart Records - 2021]
The Iro Haarla Electric Ensemble has released their first recording, What Will We Leave Behind - Images From Planet Earth, a disk of contemplative semi-melodic improvisation and jazz fusion themed around nature, climate change and the idea of apocalypse.
This theme, already omnipresent in our news media, is not one that inspires my enthusiasm, perhaps too filled with real-life emotional weight for me to wish to contemplate it in this context. That said, it is to be expected that the same sorts of personalities that created optimistic new age and advocated for environmental conservatism in the early '90s would be purveying a grave warning message like this in 2021. This is undoubtedly a mystical, spiritually themed jazz fusion / ambient release with the energy of classic psychedelic culture.
From the vague and disconnected opener "A Song We Loaned From Our Children", an arrhythmic scatter of maudlin half-phrases from the piano, only distantly related to one another, I didn't expect to enjoy this album much, thinking it likely to be an indecisive, low energy free jazz disk.
Thankfully, the 2nd piece "Led By the Wind" changes gears completely into something closer to late 70's spiritual jazz fusion, significantly more composed and structured than the previous piece. In this track, a consistent chord structure allows the guitarist to let loose a spirited and powerful solo, occasionally joined in unison with other instruments.
We return to free rhythm for the 3rd piece, "A Seafloor Scene", but in a way that pleasantly contrasts the opener, with the primary instruments in this track being a drumset and a percolating synthesizer arp. With the deep, primitive tones of the toms and the curiously disharmonic processing of the synth tone, they are able to conjure images of the titular environment.
The segue into the 4th piece, "The Spirit Bear" is quite smooth, and this ambient environment comfortably unfolds into something like a subdued, dubby psychedelic rock as the drumset settles into a pulse, joined by an electric bass guitar. By this point, I am quite pleased by the variety of this album, the way the recording is paced, the movements designed to poetically contrast each other.
Revealing 70's influences yet again, "Hot Dogs! Hot Dogs!" lurches into a relaxed midtempo funk with overdriven electric piano recalling the days of Chick Corea and McCoy Tyner. The fierce saxophone solo work on this track brings it the closest to classic jazz of anything we've heard. The wah-infused surf licks and bluesy shred we heard in the solos of "Led By the Wind" return again at the end of this track as well, providing another cathartic moment.
"Standing Rock" is a painfully heartfelt cross between a classic jazz ballad and a cinematic theme, with the most emotional saxophone playing we've heard so far. "Deep In the Eye of the Whale" is tuneful melodic ambient not unlike Robert Rich in places. In general, the album maintains the complementary nature of the styles of each piece as it continues.
This is a nostalgic and yet colourful and fresh feeling recording that blends the disparate psychedelic music styles of the '70s into a digestible and smooth concoction, with a dash of modern electronic avant-garde. The cynicism I initially felt towards the perhaps overused global warming themes and straightforward titles melts in the face of the group's powerful sincerity and musical skill. The variety of sounds employed by a group indicates a massive and vibrant inner world on the part of the musicians. There is a wealth of emotional content on this sprawling album.Josh Landry