UTOPIANISTI is the project of Markus Pajakkala emerging from Tampere, Finland where he hunts down the absolute most brilliant musicians from every nook and cranny of the musical world and gives a serious boost to the jazz-rock fusion scene with some of the most addictive creative compositions that i’ve experienced this decade. Every album is designed for a rotating cast of musicians on each album. While the project only began in 2010, fertile grounds were afoot and the project released it’s very first eponymous album the following year. While Pajakkala appears alone on the album cover, this is hardly a one man show but includes a huge cast of no less than 18 musicians covering bass, guitar, sitar, xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, clarinet, alto sax, trumpet, trombone, french horn, accordion, fiddle, violin, viola and cello. However when it comes to writing the music itself, this is Pajakkala’s baby and he plays band directer much like the role of Frank Zappa in the day. This album is his early work that emerged as a school project while he was studying music at the Sibelius Academy, a prestigious music school in Helsinki.
Despite being a mere debut, Pajakkala had a firm grip on his vision and worked it out meticulously. While his main instruments are the flute and saxes, on this one he also plays drums, keyboards and contributes vocals as well where they show up. The music is mostly based in jazz-rock fusion but this is really a smorgasbord of genres that incorporate everything from Balkan gypsy, klezmer and heavy rock to heavy doses of experimental touches. Tracks range from the heavy rock oriented “Plutonium First” that has a rather 50s rock ’n’ roll feel to it with a heavy brass and rock section making it feel more like a 70s TV adventure show theme to the funky bass chop led “Avaruuden Shammaanit” which sounds like a swing band got a sudden itch to incorporate 60s style funk into the mix although the jazzy time signatures keep it all in the grounds of challenging music despite the instantly addictive grooves. While most tracks are fairly upbeat with heavy percussive and bass driven rhythms accompanied by heavy brass section, a few tracks like “Waltz For FZ” are more laid back without feeling too slow or sappy.
I have to admit that i’m not as keen on this debut since my UTOPIANISTI journey began with perfection of “The Third Frontier.” While everything on this debut is extremely professional and well executed, the album as a whole doesn’t come off as outstanding as the following releases. While i’m totally impressed that this album was basically a school project brought to fruition via the passionate conduits of quite the number of musicians involved, i don’t think the compositions are as well developed and of the caliber that the next couple albums would include. This one has plenty of excellent fusion ideas stirring in the pot but no one has quite turned up the heat enough just yet to fully unify the possibilities that can be heard in the nascent processes. Still though, an impressive debut that paves the way for things to only get better. Personally i’d probably skip this and head straight to the second album modestly titled “UTOPIANISTI II” since most of the ideas presented here are present and perfected later. It should also be stated that this is melodic jazz with syncopation, dissonance and other jazzy characteristics but much more on the accessible side of the fence with groovy, funky rhythms that are designed to be addictive upon first listening. Those seeking a psychedelic detachment from reality should look elsewhere.