UTOPIANISTI II picks up where the eponymous debut left off only this time main man / band leader Markus Pajakkala got even more ambitious with his number of guest musicians and there are no less than 31, yes! 31(!!!) different vocalists and instrumentalists including an entire big band section and opera singers. The album is completely a studio album and many of the musicians had never even met, so UTOPIANISTI II was truly the studio project of Pajakkala taking his project that he began as a student at Helskinki’s Sibelius Academy to the next level. And what a big fat sound this one has! Pajakkala himself plays drums, percussion, tenor and baritone saxophones, flute and alto flute, bass clarinet, mellotron, various ethnic instruments, keys and vibraphone. The rest of the band includes 2 bassists, 4 guitarists, an additional organist, tons of vocals and others who play sitar, marimba, vibraphone, congras, accordion, fiddle, trumpet, trombone and extra saxophones! Whew! No they don’t play everything at once! The music is designed for a rotating cast of musicians to play their parts at select times but this is indeed a big band style of jazz-rock fusion so it indeed has a big, fat, beefy sound. Once again the jazz-rock basis is mostly based in easily accessible swing style where groovy, funky rhythms are easily digestible and the avant-garde comes in with the other instruments interacting. Although strange time signatures and other-worldly segments aren’t totally eschewed, this type of sound rests squarely in hooking you and taking you for a ride.
Right from the beginning with “Mekonium Fist” it’s apparent that this album is a huge step up from the first with not only more palatable grooves and rhythms but by the sheer force of the musicians on board. The beat is strong and so is the brass. This first track comes off as some 90s swing revival on steroids only has a heavy rock guitar added to the mix with a sizzling guitar solo that could rightfully grace any particular heavy metal sound. The second track “The Vultures Were Hungry” plays a rather Diablo Swing Orchestra move and adds a group of opera singers to the big band swing section only they up DSO and have not only female divas but a male baritone as well! The tracks are quite varied and laid out quite well so the listener remains thoroughly entertained. Next up is the tender starting “Pohjola” which is obviously a tribute to the great Pekka Pohjola in not only the title but in jazz-fusionist compositional style taking the music back to the 70s complete with appropriate organ runs and the proper zeitgeist touches. The next track “Tango Succubus Pt 2” changes things up totally and as you can probably guess is a tango only with a male opera singer and vibraphones joined by the brass section. And such is the entire album, chock full of hitherto unthinkable possible fusion where the world is a grocery store and UTOPIANISTI II is the shopping cart where all of the genres and styles play together awaiting check out.
While UTOPIANISTI II is a major step up from the less ambitious debut, this one suffers from being bloated with way too much of a good thing with a whopping time length of near 79 minutes of jazz-fusion doing a dance with almost every type of musical genre imaginable. Inevitably unless done to perfection an album this long loses steam at times. For example, certain tracks like the traditional Finnish folk track “Kynttilöitäkin Vain Yksi” sound out of place and frankly unnecessary as do some of the lesser tracks that fail to have strong hooks. Not to mention that some of the tracks just don’t gel so well next to each other. Despite the album not being perfect however Pajakkala paints the picture of what jazz-fusion dreams are made of. Great care is paid to the details with a crystal clear production and so much creative prowess lurks around every corner that it becomes dizzifying. Not only are there references to the jazz-fusion and swing greats of the past but surprises such as the Captain Beefheart inspired segments on “Spanking Time.” There are plenty of tributes to jazz greats themselves with John Coltrane being heavily represented as well. Some tracks like “Mechanoid Makeout Music” show not only a Canterbury type of whimsy but the music itself is quite unorthodox with a jittery almost Latin-jazz rhythmic type of freneticism with an Ornette Coleman type of free-jazz sax attack. “U.L.J.C. (The Unnecesssary Leftover Jam Compilation)” that ends the album is quite fun as is this album for the most part. While UTOPIANISTI II isn’t perfect by any means but there is more than enough strong material on this one to entice any enthusiastic jazz-fusion freak out there and while not as well polished as the followup “The Third Frontier,” UTOPIANISTI II is an extremely strong set of eclectic numbers just waiting to blow your mind.