Trumpet player Verneri Pohjola has had an amazing year, culminating first with HUSH, a work composed for him by Kaija Saariaho, and now with the release of his new solo album Monkey Mind. For Pohjola, the important thing about making music is the feeling that everything is allowed and that imagination is your best friend.
Well, this year has been a very rich one; there have been many remarkable things. The biggest is certainly Kaija Saariaho’s HUSH. It still seems incomprehensible that Kaija is gone. It also seems incomprehensible that she wrote that concert for me. Preparing for it took all my time after the album was made. And now it’s been really important to recover from the performances. After the concerts I have given it my all and there was plenty to digest. But luckily my working rhythm eased up a bit after it and I’ve been able to take a break in September, although I’ve had some nice gigs with Aki Rissanen’s Hyperreal, Antti Lötjönen’s ALQE, Esbjörn Svensson Trio, Tuomo & Markus and even one of my own quartets.
You will release your seventh solo album Monkey Mind at Tampere Jazz Happening in early November – and it will be over four years since your last album was recorded. What has changed in your music in that time or are you looking for a change with a new line-up, with new foreign musicians? Pianist Kit Downes and double bassist Jasper Høiby are still fresh partners, as you have only performed together three times before Tampere.
The change in my own music is quite gradual. It’s a kind of nurturing of ideas. That’s why maybe my own rhythm in making records may look slow to some people. But I think you have to have something you really want to express before it’s worth making a new record. With this album I’ve somehow got back to what music making is for me at its best in a quite nice and natural way. I’ve gotten back to the feeling that in music making everything is allowed and your own imagination is your friend, the best kind.
Besides that, Tuomo’s contribution to my album has been exactly what I wanted from the producer, giving ideas and encouraging. The whole process felt good. And the new band is really great. Jasper and I have already had the chance to play live. Kit is so busy that it’s hard to get him to gigs, but it’s great to get to Tampere with him and Tuomo. And Tuomo is a great double for his role. Or actually Tuomo always creates his own role, just as I hope all my band members do. Of course Tuomo already knows the music really well, because he has been closely involved since the songwriting.
You have mentioned that the title of your album Monkey Mind refers to the restlessness of the mind, a mind-filling doubt about “one’s own adequacy, goodness or ability”. How much, if any, of the individual Verneri Pohjola is poured into the music of the composer Verneri Pohjola? Or is the very idea of separating them absurd?
Well, one of the most essential elements of my identity is just this making and improvising music. Indeed, my mind is often restless, but music is a strong balancer. It would seem difficult to separate my own personality from my own playing.
You have increasingly profiled yourself as a creator and performer of your own music, but you don’t seem to shy away from being a band musician, and in very different line-ups – from Tuomo & Markus’ North American songwriting music to Aki Rissanen’s heavily electro-influenced Hyperreal. What encourages and inspires you to throw yourself into such new contexts? Is it fair to assume that it’s not just about self-employment?
The motivation definitely comes from music. I enjoy diving into other people’s musical ideas and preferably do it in a way where my own personality comes through strongly. If I only do one thing for a longer period of time, my creativity and motivation suffer and the ideas start to feel stale. A kind of relaxation is missing if you’re just doing one thing and keep doing the same thing. What works really well for me is that I can seek new inspiration across genre boundaries. Whether it’s electronic, Americana Indie, contemporary classical or improvised music.
What’s going to happen?
Of course, in the coming years I’ll be able to play HUSH in some amazing places and my own band will also have some really nice gigs. The longer term plans have also taken shape nicely with the help of Pia Raitala and Raitala Music. My dreams are many and most of them are related to making music. I also hope to reach a stage in my life where, for example, slightly longer, residency-style projects abroad are possible. My own band is of course also at the heart of what I do, although it is only one part of how I make my artistry happen. Tampere Jazz Happening is always an uplifting experience as well. I hope to come back to the festival many more times, both to perform and to be part of the audience.
Verneri Pohjola: Monkey Mind Friday 3 November 2023 at 21.45 Pakkahuone