Saxophonist Esa Pietilä reviews

(as composer & soloist)

“Diverse tenor saxophone sounded magnificently throughout the whole concerto”

Graffiti Play (Pietilä), Kuopio Symphony, Ville Matvejeff & Esa Pietilä Trio, 23.3.2017

Saxophonist Esa Pietilä´s Trio and Kuopio Symphony intertwined stylishly together Pietilä´s piece Graffiti Play which includes free jazz improvisation and symphony orchestra´s colorful soundscapes. The baton of conductor Ville Matvejeff welded the piece´s psyceledic sounds together with Kuopio Symphony´s emancipated musicianship. Pietilä´s touchy and diverse tenor saxophone sounded magnificently throughout the whole work.

Pietilä´s determinedly maneuvered and surprisingly blowed improvisational shapes fit beautifully in the emancipated performance of the Symphony orchestra. Also the jazz trio´s skillfull bassist Ville Herrala and drummer Mika Kallio did their requiring arduous work perfectly.

Martti Koljonen / Jazzrytmit

“The New updated status of the tenor saxophone”

Pori Sinfonietta, conducted by Jan Söderblom, Esa Pietilä as a soloist, tenor saxophone. 1st premiere of Kalevi Aho´s Tenor saxophone concerto 10.3.2016 Promenade Hall, Pori ,Finland

Kalevi Aho showed his musical wisdom with his new tenor saxophone concerto. Little by little with the assistance of saxophonist Esa Pietilä, the spirit of the tenor saxophone woke up and conquered the Promenade concert hall. The instrumentation and things which were psychologically correct in timings were masterfully controlled in the concerto. Breathtakingly beautiful musical visions and sceneries opened during the performance. In the parts of the orchestra attention was drawn to the smart details that were carried out with the the harp and, above all with percussion instruments”.

“Soloist Esa Pietilä deserves respect for the mere fact that he is working towards the establishment of the new library for the tenor saxophone with excellent composers. Pietilä took care of the premiere of the concerto with a sovereign technical expertise and with elegant musicianship”.

“The new, higher status of the tenor saxophone was brought into force no later than in the end of the work during the pizzicato expressions”.

Juha-Pekka Pelkonen – Satakunnan Kansa Magazine

A Fine concerto for tenor saxophone”

Lappeenranta Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Tibor Bogányi, Esa Pietilä as a soloist, tenor saxophone. 2nd premiere of Kalevi Aho´s Tenor saxophone concerto 7.3. 2016 Lappeenranta Hall, Finland

“Alto Saxophone has been used in classical music to color orchestral sound to some extent, but the tenor saxophone is not reached, despite of its impressive sound. Esa Pietilä and Kalevi Aho have cooperated and corrected the lack of it truly magnificently”.

“Aho´s composing work and Pietilä´s demonstration of tenor saxophone´s secrets, possibilities and opportunities has produced a handsome concerto, which musical structure and the trajectory of the melodies and rhythm aspects outplays any prejudices. The work presented the expressive potential of the versatile instrument”.

“Esa Pietilä´s husky, but professionally good excerpt brought a breath from the jazz world, which sat in the work perfectly. The orchestral part was an interesting with crisp overtones and rhythmic aspect which also kept the percussionist of the orchestra busy. Enjoyable premiere No 2 of the concerto”.

Jukka Lind – Etelä Saimaa magazine

Listen excerpts from the concerto´s 2nd premiere

Graffiti Play (Pietilä), premiere – Avanti! chamber orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen & Esa Pietilä Trio
, 6.10. 2014

“A step from Anders Hillborg´s work to the beef of Avanti! chamber orchestra´s concert program, Esa Pietilä´s premiere Graffiti Play for free-jazz trio and orchestra (2012) is not very long.

“When one includes free-jazz trio into chamber orchestra, the piece surprisingly is symphonic and chamber orchestra into free-jazz trio, is the piece surprisingly improvisatory. The thoughts travel to post second world war modernistic middle-european esthetics, but in the air there are other things hanging as reminiscencies of melancholy, constantly preparatory music that evolves layer by layer – not necessarily with greater volume, speed or faster tempos, but continuously with new dimensions which are orchestrated well. This way the atmospheres and passages last long, even a minute at a time. Esa Pietilä himself is influential character at the field and his saxophone part places a definitive direction for the piece. The collaboration with the members of the trio, drummer Mika Kallio and bassist Ville Herrala works seamlessly, as also the communication with the orchestra. Occasioanally one´s mind might get reflections e.g. from Anders Hillborg´s or Esa-Pekka Salosen´s music, but in the name of the truth, I have to say that Pietilä´s piece does not resemble anything what I have heard before and that way is a bracing experience in itself”.

Hufvudstadsbladet Magazine / Wilhelm Kvist

Listen samples from the premiere concert of Graffiti Play

“Pietilä reached the perfect flow-state with his tenor saxophone, and excellent concertino on was born“.

Review of Asterion (Pietilä) premiere 7.4.2014, Camerata-hall, Helsinki Music Centre. Zagros ensamble & Esa Pietilä (soloist) 

The musicians who have gone through the education mill of the classical school, have fairly long related to improvisaation as it was free sky diving without the parachute. With fear and horror. Times have however changing and have already changed. Now premiered Esa Pietilä´s piece Asterion is one evidence of that.

Pietilä has written for a contemporary chamber group freshly energetic textures, that also includes open sections for improvisations. Anything life and health threatening dangers are nonetheless required from the musicians. For the excellent musicians of contemporary group Zagros this did not bring any problems.

As an experienced jazz musician, Pietilä reached the perfect flow-state with his tenor saxophone, and and an excellent concertino was born.

Helsingin Sanomat, Lauri Otonkoski,

“Esa Pietilä´s fearless musical visionary”

Pietilä is known as a fearless musical visionary. His repertory is extremely versatile, including collaborations with classical orchestras. Moreover, he has brought not only Finnish but also international critics to their knees

– Finnish Jazz Federation   

“Liberty Ship, a Finnish super group”

Tampere Jazz Happening 2014

Saxophonist Esa Pietilä is an avid sailor and his Liberty Ship, a Finnish super group gathering much sought-after pianist Aki Rissanen, bassist Antti Lotjonen and internationally well-known drummer Olavi Louhivuori. The quartet formed in 2012 navigates the waters of free jazz and improvised music, moving along unexplored passages of their own choice and challenge. One year ago the group released its double album Approaching on the profiled Edition label, with a collection of ‘loose compositions’ in the first part, and a completely improvised second part. It indicates a great potential of music created ‘in the moment,’ that bore out at their Telakka set in a fully captivating way. The musicians set their sails high, mastered the falling winds, and opened vivid panoramas.

Henning Bolte (All About Jazz) 

“The captivating quartet Liberty Ship”

Tampere Jazz Happening 2014

As for the captivating quartet Liberty Ship, led by experienced tenor saxophonist Esa Pietila, it brilliantly recasts the creeping, crepuscular ambiences of electric Miles and Milestone period Joe Henderson for the digital age. This is one of the highlights of the whole four-day event insofar as it keeps listeners rapt during a lengthy, often hypnotic suite that shifts seamlessly from tautly executed grooves to electronic hiss and crackle without ever losing its bold narrative drive.

Kevin Le Gendre/Jazzwise magazine 

“Great, incentive playing!”

Umeå Jazz Festival 2014

Esa Pietilä is a leading Finish saxophonist whose career took off in the second half of the nineties when he formed a trio with bassist Ulf Krokfors and drummer Markku Ounaskari. Last year he formed a new quartet., Liberty Ship, with Aki Rissanen (p), Antti Lotjonen (b), Olavi Louhivuori (dr) and just released the first album (Approaching, Eclipse Music (2013)), of this new group programmatically named Liberty Ship. Seeing him live for the first time he seemed almost a reincarnation of the young Gary Thomas. But that is a first moment association. Pietilä is a very powerful but also gentle saxophonist who can reach far out but first of all let all the capabilities of his fellow musicians unfold in this band. Great, incentive playing!

Henning Bolte (All About Jazz) 

“Liberty Ship to the European frontline”

“Liberty Ship sailed to the European frontline – The music of Liberty Ship threw the group brightly into the crowd of one of the best European groups.”

The leading Finnish Newspaper “Helsingin Sanomat” – Jukka Hauru

Esa Pietila is now hitting his creative genius”.

A solo saxophone work from arguable the finest saxophonists from Eastern Europe in Karhea from Esa Pietila…..Pietila clearly shows why his prolific talent has his work revered by the masters of their craft. Karhea is a landmark release for one of the finest saxophone player that I have had the exception to hear. Eg. the tune”Lighting’s Surprise” is a master class in the art of the tenor sax. With the exception of Ivo Perleman, Esa Pietila is now hitting his creative genius. Standing the test of time finds Esa Pietila simply aging like fine wine. Pietila gets better and more robust with age. A no brainer for sure…

Solo album “Karhea” review by CriticalJazz, USA / Brent Black

“Pietilä explores every sonic inch of his weapon of choice that being the tenor saxophone”

Esa Pietilä is a musical visionary and when combined with the percussive onslaught of Jeff Siegel then both Pietilä and Siegel welcome You to the land of harmonic disengagement and the percussive nuance that magically reforms each piece into something new. What is amazing when taken at face value is that Pietilä is without his regular quartet and there was but one rehearsal between Siegel and Pietilä. There are baseless 4tets, piano less trios, and a myriad of ensembles that explore the outer reaches that is the freedom or ground zero of jazz itself.

“Out Doors” gives us a spontaneity lacking in so many other well rehearsed and well timed releases of sonic predictability and the appropriate ambiguity that simple comes along for the ride. “Out Doors” kicks the release off with a more free form open ended lyrical approach to the melody while the articulated percussive nuances guide the rhythmic direction of the piece itself. Pietilä explores every sonic inch of his weapon of choice that being the tenor saxophone. Spontaneous ambiguity centered in the midst of controlled chaos is indeed a beautiful thing….Again the open ended approach with with Siegel and Pietilä is nothing short of brilliant… Pietilä is controlled and precise while sightly methodically in his performance, Siegel conducts a percussive exploratory and together two voice become one. Layers of textures and a detached ambivalence to their craft leaving the listener wanting more. Aurora Borealis is indeed a master class. “Power Orbit” is just that, the controlled sonic fury that is the innate gift to shirt meter, harmonics and dynamics for effect on the fly. The amazing aspect of Out Doors is that a drummer, tenor saxophone duet is rarely if ever heard with perhaps Ivo Perelman that last player I can recall attempting such a fight of fancy.

Esa Pietilä and Jeff Siegel and both exemplary artists that could easily stand along side any ECM artist and literally blow their socks off. A master class of what to do and more importantly what not to do. To dwell on hyper criticism s not how I roll…As close to perfect as you can get if you are looking for that happy place between hard bop and free jazz. A superlative recording.

Album “Out Doors” review by CriticalJazz, USA / Brent Black

Scope and imagination as a player.”

“Esa is one of Finland’s leading jazz musicians and a dedicated jazz educator. I recommend his albums Direct (Fiasko Records) with Uffe Krokfors on bass and Markku Ounaskari on drums as well as the album Fulica Atra that followed, which show his scope and imagination as a player.”

Professor Stuart Nicholson, Author, Journalist, Lecturer:

About solo saxophone CD “Karhea”….Congrats on the new CD – it’s FANTASTIC!

AllAboutJazz-New York (Laurence Donohue-Greene)

Esa is a wonderfully gifted saxophonist and composer. I can highly recommend Esa as a composer, performer and educator.”

Michael J. Stevens, International Society of Improvised Music

“Uncompromising approach”

Pietilä´s uncompromising approach, search for new angles and refusal to walk the trodden path betray his lofty ambitions, which comes across wonderfully in his most recent trio discs “Direct” and “Travel of fulica atra”

From an interview by Finnish Music Quarterly, FIMIC, 2008

“Esa Pietilä, known as a prowess visionary and improviser”

-Finnish Music Quarterly

“He has created an uncompromising set of improvised material”.

Pietilä is obviously serious about his craft of freeform jazz, and together with bassist Uffe krokfors and drummer Markku Ounaskari, he has created an uncompromising set of mainly collectively improvised material. Never one to blow his lungs out like Peter Brötzmann, but not one to hold back either, Pietilä has a peaceful, storyteller´s approach to his music. He places great attention to creating musical sceneries that are essentially Scandinavian – and – Finnish by nature. Over the six years that Pietilä, Krokfors and Ounaskari have worked together as a trio, their interaction has developed into something seamless. The trio´s enjoyment of playing jazz oozes through and this album may well be their finest effort so far.

-Finnish Music Quarterly

His work is that of an always explorative saxophonist”

Bounding into “Mind Hunt,” the first track, with buoyancy and immediate claim to the listener’s attention, Pietilä’s trio puts forth its strengths up front that carry it through the remainder of the album: the group’s engaged absorption in the music, the members’ interest in the infinite potential of the sounds they can create, their openness for free improvisation and the elaboration upon the conventional roles of their instruments. The result is a recording by matured and explorative musicians whose enjoyment in the process of playing jazz comes through in each of the12 tracks.
Pietilä injects immediacy and surprise into his playing by going for unplanned gems that like-minded interaction can discover through spontaneous playing. Pietilä doesn’t include any chorded instruments in his trio, and with good reason: His interests are as much about implication—the spaces between the dots he punches out—as about literal adherence to pre-written composition.
Although Esa Pietilä’s recordings aren’t as heavily promoted as those of saxophonists on larger labels, his work is that of an always explorative saxophonist, accessible though with a personal perspective toward the music he plays. And “Direct” is the work of a jazz artist worth the search. Whole article at: www.jazzreview.com

Don Williamson, Jazzreview.com

“His tone is gorgeous”

Way up in Porvoo, Finland, Esa Pietilä, the leader of “Direct”, has a tenor tone suitable for framing, partaking of the Coltrane and post-Coltrane stream but also icily ruminative a la Jan Garbarek, without dipping into any untoward ECMism. The rhythm section alone on this trio date would prevent that. Take “Mind Hunt,” for example: bassist Krokfors quotes “Milestones” (the second one) while drummer Ounaskari plays with as many hands as Elvin Jones at his most ferociously exuberant, and Pietilä manages to evoke this highly-charged Sixties atmosphere while never resorting to the tired bag of tricks that so few have been able to resist before him. Even his reentry after a bass/drum solo on “Headway” strongly recalls the Master’s reappearance after a similar interlude on “Alabama,” he doesn’t allow himself to fall into any of the more obvious traps. Also, throughout this disc he seems to decline to take the bait offered by Krokfors and Ounaskari in particular, although the choices he does make complement their goading and churning just fine without making this into an outright Aylerfest. And his tone is gorgeous, particularly on the ringing “Direct” and the resonating “Point Zero”.

Robert Spencer, Cadence

A visceral gut-punch with both urgency and subtlety”.

Like its predecessors, the Esa Pietilä Trio peels away jazz’s conventions to reveal its basic sound elements, but its efforts on Direct are leaner and more refined. With a minimum of song structure but a maximum of group interaction, they deliver a visceral gut-punch with both urgency and subtlety.

The group does not rigidly define each player’s role, thereby freeing them to delve deeper into their instruments’ potential. On “Purple Jungle” they merge into one instrument, with Krokfors’ bowing sounding like a horn, Pietilä’s throaty growls scraping like an arco bass, and Ounaskari’s percussion evoking plucked strings.

“Bumpy Down” showcases how the trio often assumes different duet forms. Krokfors generates a frenetic pulse around which Pietilä on soprano prods the melody along. With only two players they aggressively explore yet still retain a vast silence.

While much free jazz often climaxes in cataclysmic peaks, this trio prefers to let silence and resonance build. A delicious tension emerges on “Headway” as Pietilä’s tenor stretches compact phrases into winding passages while Krokfors and Ounaskari string out the pulse until it nearly disintegrates. By putting texture and interaction over harmonic development and song structure, they highlight a larger goal: creating a unified group identity. Direct offers a subtle blend of melodic sketches, rhythmic boldness and intense interaction-a quiet storm of noise. Whole article at: all about jazz.

ALL ABOUT JAZZ, Matthew Wuethrich

“Special, original and mature”

With release ”Direct” Esa Pietilä proofs how special, original and mature a jazz from Europe can be.

HPEIROTIKOS AGON, Vangelis Aragiannis (Greece)

“His naturally free phrasing stands out distinctively”.

“He simply sounds different, his naturally free phrasing stands out distinctively. He is also not to blame to imitate John Coltarane, although large number of musicians who perform this kind of music reach out from the shadow of the great saxophonist. The Lyricism of Pietilä on the tune Spring Flower is impressive”.


“Own voice”

“Direct” is Esa Pietilä’s third and best album. He is finding his own voice through freer expression. Pietilä’s expressive moods are supported exquisitely by quaranteed rhythms of bassist Uffe Krokfors and drummer Markku Ounaskari. Excellent sound of this album through fine recording work also deserves a thank You.


“Cool, muscular and direct!”

“Direct” sounds excactly like it`s name reveals; cool, muscular and direct ! Pietilä does not fall to show-off with technique or embellishment with ornamention only…His both saxophones sound thrustworthy, and the impression is supported with muscular tunes which are either composed or totally improvised.Pietilä´s quintet cd ”Fastjoik” was excellent. ”Direct” is a meaningfulful step towards much freer dimensions.


“The performances of the group are excellent”

With His third cd Pietilä seems to be very much at home on these acoustic and free moods. The compositions have long structures which are based on free-based expression. The group does not go for the traditional melodic thinking; instead of that the weight seems to be at collective communication. Good example of that is a wild and rugged tune called ”A Sign”. YES, Pietilä has done his best cd. Also the performances of the group are excellent, GO FOR IT !


“Not fearing to take musical risks when needed”

Highlights include;…a subtle acoustic performance by Esa Pietilä group. The quintet was very nice. Young, very well educated musicians with a modern and personal touch and also with an attitude of not fearing to take musical risks when needed…

Tenor saxophonist Esa Pietilä´s case is the advanced modal sound that Miles Davis explored with his classic 1960´s quintet. But even more; Pietilä and crew do more than mimic second’-hand sounds; they use them to fashion a spookily attractive soundscape. You know where they’re coming from, but that doesn’t mean you’re not interested in where they’re heading. Pietilä has a smooth, smoky tone on tenor and a tart bite on soprano. On both horns he spins out lines that grow directly from the compositions. On “Before Moon”, and “After Moon” he and Bergcrantz exchange phrases and seem to be engaging in a contest to see who can play sweeter. As a composer he’s willing to let his compositions evolve rather than rushing them in to the solo stage. He’s assisted in this by everyone on hand. Given the sense of Miles’ ghost wafting through these proceedings, the brass man on hand better have something interesting to say. No worries here. Bergcrantz fills those shoes admirably. His blowing’s tough and lyrical with a gorgeous softball tone, burning or sighing as the music requires, and the knack for the right effect. Pianist Pessi Levanto is a fluid, cogent pianist who knows how to weave a tasty lick throughout a solo. The rhythm section of Anttila and drummer Markku Ounaskari lays down shifting patterns of color and time absolutely in tune with the compositions. This is one fine session !

DOWNBEAT magazine, Ed Enright at PORI JAZZ FESTIVAL -99

“He has come to the final front line of the Finnish jazz musicians”.

“Saxplayer Esa Pietilä has gained too little attention even though he has come to the final front line of the Finnish jazz musicians.”Fastjoik” honours the expectations. Pietilä surprises with colourfuland versatile compositions or the quintet. The nuances & colours of his playing also come present on the CD. Improvisations have feeling and message. Swedish “trumpet ace” Bergcrantz fits perfectly in the whole picture of the high quality music”.

Jukka Hauru, HELSINGIN SANOMAT , Helsinki / nationwide

“Filled with original stories to tell”.

Esa Pietilä is a man of many hooks. Furthermore his style of spicing is not limited to soloing. He seems to throw all kinds of herbs in the pot already in the composition process. By following this formula the man manages to make the music not only thematically interesting, but also highly contagious. The sound of his sax is sturdy, his technique well honed and his soloing filled with original stories to tell. The album also contains an element of surprise. Pietilä plays the soprano saxophone with wondrous joy and gusto. Pietilä manages to invoke such warmth and beauty from his horn – even in the most up-tempo runs – that we can easily forget the usual moans and groans so often linked with this instrument.

JAZZRYTMIT-MAGAZINE, Kuopio / nationwide (18th March 1999)

“Structurally imaginative and colourful”.

Pietilä manifests a superb control over himself and his instrument both as a musician and a composer. The music on the album is mostly written by himself and it is an impressive collection of wellthought-out, muscular tunes which also function nicely as bases for soloing. The compositions are both thematically and harmonically very insightful. Pietilä’s own solos sound fresh and are structurally imaginative and colourful.


“Sense of power and colour”

The group performs with a sense of power and colour, the music flows effortlessly and energetically. And most importantly, the groove swings like anything you ever heard before. The rhythm section follows the solistic events with ease. Thusly there is ample space for the soloists to build up their individual statements and spice the proceedings with a full range of dynamics. The thematic and harmonic structures of the compositions are constructed with care. And it is espacially in the solo area where both Bergcrantz and Pietilä shine. Their lines are rhythmically and melodically challenging and interesting.

Sakari Karttunen, KALEVA, Oulu / nationwide(14th March 1999):