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Leading Light in European JazzCopyright © 1999The Scotsman, 1999
Vesala, EdwardEdward Vesala was one of the most important musicians to emerge on the European jazz scene, and played a major role in the creation of a distinctively European jazz identity. He made his mark as an improvising drummer as well as an original composer and arranger, and forged his spirited Sound and Fury ensemble into one of the key creative groups of the era.
Many musicians from the northern European fringes came to prominence in the post-60s development of European jazz and new music, led by the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek. Vesala played on Garbarek's fiery Triptykon album in 1972 for ECM Records, than as now a focus for new developments in Europe, a project which proved to carry more pointers to the drummer's uncompromising future direction than the saxophonist's.
Vesala's example was a galvanising force in Finnish music, and he became the focus for most of the developments within that country, but his impact was by no means restricted to it. He evolved a unique and highly distinctive sound-world with his group, exploring unusual extremes of instrumental timbre and texture in his arrangements, with his own varied and expressive percussion at the heart of the music.
He recorded a number of albums for ECM Records from the early 1970s onwards, beginning with Nan Madol in 1974, which featured the expatriate American saxophonist Charlie Mariano amid the Finnish line-up, and on which Vesala played harp and flute as well as percussion. Satu (1977) assembled a pan-European cast, including Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, Norwegian guitarist Terje Rypdal, and Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg.
He recorded with Stanko and an otherwise all-American band in New York in 1980, released on the Finnish Leo Records label as Heavy Life , but reverted to ECM and his Sound and Fury unit for the album which will be seen as his masterpiece. Lumi (1986) incorporated characteristically diverse musical influences, including tango, rock, folk and minimalism, within a compelling and highly atmospheric framework.
He was not prolific in the studio, but when he did record, he invariably produced memorable results in albums like the polemical but ultimately celebratory Ode To the Death of Jazz (1989), Invisible Storm (1992), and the slightly less vital Nordic Gallery (1994). He had been in poor health for some years, but was at work on an unfinished new recording when he died of heart failure at his country home outside Helsinki.