THE CLASSICAL FORM of piano trio is unfamiliar in jazz spheres – but, for Finnish pianist/composer Iiro Rantala, Polish violinist Adam Baldych and Austrian cellist Asja Valcic (all classically trained), it seems the perfect grouping to animate these jazz originals from Rantala.
The compositional approach stems from a desire to champion melodies – as Rantala says: “…in today’s jazz, most people try to get by without them… and if they don’t, they play standards.” And much of the sequence is tightly arranged in three parts, beautifully balanced with the freedom to improvise, frequently sailing close to ‘light music’. But it also has a depth of integrity which is both charming and inviting, due in part to the multifarious timbres the ‘string trio’ members achieve between them, as well as their undoubted shared discipline and musicianship. The music feels close and personal, conveying a variety of emotions – from heart-rending romanticism, through gritty chasing momentum or devotional simplicity, to unalloyed and overflowing joy.
Iiro Rantala’s pianistic style is noteable for its precision and clarity, but also for its ‘prepared/muted’ technique which complements the strings of violin and cello, used to great effect in Freedom (at times, its bounciness mimics a synthesised approach reminiscent of Vangelis). In contrast, there are echoes of Asja Valcic’s own Radio String Quartet Vienna in the pulsating Hard Score, driven by cello and violin, Rantala’s piano running with the heightened intensity and contributing muted bass, whilst the gypsy-jazz violin is phenomenal both in raciness and fluidity. A Gift is easy-going and entirely accessible, Baldych’s agile plucked melody preceding a lush, homely trio arrangement which glistens with top-end piano runs; and the delicate musical box introduction to Prayer builds into an impassioned love song, with the individual violin and cello melodies so yearningly lyrical.
Title track Anyone With A Heart expresses all the warm affection of a Sunday evening’s soft TV drama, its bright, memorable melodies evoking rolling Yorkshire Dales landscapes or stately country houses. And, just as irresistible, is A Little Jazz Tune which, as its name implies, provides a jaunty ‘life’s good’ interlude with Grappelli-style portamento fiddle improvisations over Rantala’s unashamedly cheerful piano. Alone switches to a minor key of sorrowful longing, Valcic’s cello singing so eloquently and movingly; and Rantala’s brief, gentle arrangement of Harold Arlen’s Somewhere Over The Rainbow offers the subtlest of silver linings, before heading into the convivial, showy curtain call, er… Happy Hippo!
Those looking for hard-edged, challenging jazz are likely to find this release a touch too light. But it exudes a warmth and a sincerity which is difficult to ignore, such is the charm and openness of Iiro Rantala’s writing and the conviction of his players. It’s certainly been a popular choice in this household.
‘Anyone With A Heart’ is released in the UK on 10 March 2014, by ACT Music – audio samples and information available here.
Iiro Rantala piano
Adam Baldych violin
Asja Valcic cello
ACT 9566-2 (2014)