HAVE YOU EVER perused the specialist CD store shelves (a rare pleasure these days, I know) and eschewed the solo or duo releases in favour of something seemingly bigger, bolder and multi-layered? If so, you might run the risk of missing out on the likes of Finnish treasure It Takes Two to Tango.
As part of ACT Music’s expanding Duo Art* series, saxophonist Jukko Perka and pianist Iiro Rantala recorded, across just two consecutive days, this no-hiding-place duo performance which demonstrates their affinity with the Finnish tradition of tango, as well as their richly empathetic, improvisatory qualities. Making expansive and particularly sonorous use of the renowned Alfred Brendel Steinway d-524780 (which the great virtuoso played during his concert appearances at Berlin’s Philharmonie), Rantala clearly revels in this thirteen-track musical conversation with ace saxophonist Perko. Based around themes of love, it’s not all about the tango – indeed, for a programme so wide-ranging (from Charles Aznavour to Jean Sibelius), it holds together beautifully, requiring close attention to enjoy its depth of detail.
Perko’s agitated arrangement of traditional melody My Sweetheart is Beautiful (Minun Kultani Kaunis On) is taken far from its traditional Finnish roots, resounding to his slippery alto and Rantala’s spirited rhythms; and Jacob Gade’s showy tango, Jealousy, oozes passion in a particularly lively outing. The clear communication between Perko and Rantala is tangible in their creative reading of Just Say I Love Her as they subtly deconstruct its achingly beautiful melody, followed by the sighing soprano sax solace of Charles Aznavour’s For Mama, gorgeously underpinned by Rantala’s strong-yet-subtle assurance.
The quizzical tango buoyancy of another Finnish folk tune arrangement, Therefore I Am Sad, is reminiscent of the Ballamy/Carstensen album The Little Radio, Perko’s wonderfully drowsy alto easing over signature chordal ripples from Rantala, whilst Romance rises with the anthemic lyricism and confidence of Tim Garland. And traditional Swedish tune A Blessing (Lyckönskan) resonates to muted bottom-end Steinway strings, this most ravishing of melodies bearing all the quiet nobility of Abdullah Ibrahim’s The Wedding.
Jukka Perko’s own I Will tenderly rises and falls, its unfailingly amiable soprano tune giving way to Rantala’s lucid piano soloing; and Victor Young’s classic Stella by Starlight is given a resolute, smouldering tango twist, the duo’s dynamic sensitivity carefully balanced. Of Russian origin, Love Is So Beautiful is delicately pitched, with Perko’s alto taking on a Getzian mellowness and vibrato, as it also does in Finnish-titled Good Intentions – carefree yet with pangs of disquiet.
To close, Sibelius’s familiar hymn from symphonic poem Finlandia is explored in both piano solo and duet versions: redolent of a Keith Emerson transcription of Copland or Ginastera, Rantala’s take on it grooves heavily to deep-end piano oscillations; and, in contrast, the duet variation twinkles to emotive high soprano exploration and solid piano grandeur.
My admittedly cursory first listen was a brief mistake, for the exquisite clarity and musicality later revealed in this recording now call me back again and again.
Released on 11 May 2015, further information and audio clips can be found at ACT Music.
Jukka Perko alto & soprano saxophones
Iiro Rantala piano
ACT Music – ACT 9629-2 (2015)