Third time is a charm for UTOPIANISTI as they reach the pinnacle of their creative energies on THE THIRD FRONTIER. Once again band leader and head honcho Markus Pajakkala seeks out another cast of musical talent for a whole new jazz-rock fusion experience that reels the listener in with heavy horn-laden hooks and groovy driving percussive rhythms and delivers a sonic splendorous jazzy journey through the jungles of sound. While the previous album had a whopping 31 musicians and vocalists clogging up every possible nanosecond of the album, this one was trimmed down to a mere 7 instrumentalists and two additional vocalists. While the other albums were self released this one found a home on the Pohjola Records label, former label of none other than the legend Pekka Pohjola himself. THE THIRD FRONTIER refines all of the ideas, compositional styles and genre blending to perfection. One of the reasons this album works so well is that much of the material was played live previously allowing the band members to simmer the material down into a scrumptious consummation of content. Gone is the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach and instead we have a perfectly balanced jazz-rock fusion album that still channels the zeitgeist of classic 70s fusion while remaining steadfastly contemporary replete with outstanding musicianship crafted with crystal clear production and mixing. The musicians on THE THIRD FRONTIER basically recorded this album live in a cabin by a lake in the Finnish countryside where they were all entrenched in the charms of their own personal Rancho Relaxo where they ate good food and hit the sauna before bed time. It sounds like my kind of party actually :)
After a psychedelic sounding intro the feisty cover depicting title “Voodoo Mammoths From Neptune” showcases the first seductive swanky sax groove that gently beckons the guitars, keys and bass in a game of tug-of-war to see who can carry the melodic development in a pass the torch kinda way. This whimsical Canterbury styled jazz-rock scene is only one of many jazz styles on display at the Pajakkala sonic museum of jazz-rock. While swing is in no short supply on the album, its dance with psychedelic organ runs on “Dr. Gravity’s Evil Plan” is just divinely delicious as the saxes, flutes and clarinets slowly ratchet up the tension to a climax that once dropped brings a fuzz guitar and bass out of the murky din to expose a most satisfying heavy psychedelic rock underpinning. While Canterbury whimsical titles are the name of the game on THE THIRD FRONTIER, further references to the greats like Hatfield and the North come fully into play with the erratic tinkling keyboards on “Universe For Dummies” that also showcases the angelic diva Suvi Väyrynen doing her best Amanda Parsons and adding an extra dimension to the track that takes the wild and groovy bass and drums culminating with a tasty guitar solo in the clouds and above. The following short track follows the Hatfield and the North theme with Dave Stewart inspired keyboards on “White Dwarf” that basically serves as an intro for the next track.
“Life As We Thought We Knew It” gracefully ratchets up the Canterbury styled jazz-rock with psychedelic touches and remains reserved in the tempo as it simply creeps along with oddly shaped time signatures punctuating a rather sparse canvass as the dominate bass and drum groove allows the swing style horn section to blurt out the recurring melody. “A Hundred Rabbits” on the other hand heads into funk rock territory as the bass and guitar deliver the solid rhythmic background with Latin-jazz flavored percussion and a sultry sax sizzling around every musical curve with Suvi Väyrynen once again joining again with her over-the-top siren vocals sending the track into heavenly bliss territory. “Spanking Season” picks up the steam with an avant-jazz-blues groove with a great Captain Beefheart vocal impression by Pharaoh Pirttikangas and is a sequel to the track on Utopianisti II but has different vocals and different musical parts even though it has similar riffs.“13 Demons In The Disco Dimension” is my favorite track on the album with a groovin’ synth funk basis and hard driving rhythm and addictive melody including vibraphone and marimba that includes the most dazzling guitar solo i’ve heard on a jazz-fusion album since John McLaughlin dazzled the world in his Mahavishnu Orchestra as Antero Mentu delivers one of the most off-kilter stylistic guitar solos i’ve heard in a long time. The album closes with the more subdued closer “The Last Reflection” that ends the album with the listener gently coming down from the jazz-fusion heavens and delivered back to Earth in a mellow mint-under-your-sleepy-time-pillow sort of way.
I can understand why some jazz-fusionists may not find this appealing. UTOPIANISTI is all about groovy, catchy melodic rhythmic developments that swing and allow a whole series of instrumental interactions to reach their full potential and may even find it slightly over-calculated in how slick it’s all pulled off. I, on the other hand, LOOOOOVE this album and find it to be sheer perfection for what is intended. The grooves and hooks are instantly addictive. The complexities of instrument interplay add layers of sonic tension and there are just enough progressive twists and turns carefully laid out in the right places to make this one extremely satisfying experience. As with the previous two releases, if crazy psychedelic reality distorting jazz-fusion is what you’re craving then this won’t fill the bill. If you crave a warm and welcoming swinging sultry good time of seasoned musicians having the time of their lives making great music together at a cabin on a lake and creating a diverse palette of retro meets contemporary, then this will not disappoint. Every track on here is carefully crafted and polished to perfection. I can’t seem to get enough of this one lately.