‘Amorandom’ – Aki Rissanen

Amorandum

DISPLAYING a distinctly oblique yet beautifully affecting jazz sensibility, Finnish pianist and composer Aki Rissanen’s Amorandom defines ‘the piano trio’ afresh in an album which effervesces with both spontaneity and unpredictability.

Rissanen originally conceived this music, a few years ago, as a soundtrack for respected Finnish animator, Antti Peränne. Yet, in its final form – and brought to life by colleagues Antii Lötjönen (double bass) and Teppo Mäkynen (drums) – it stands in splendid isolation as an absorbing, sit-up-and-listen release full of invention, atmosphere… and startling technique. Following a distinguished progression of classical and jazz education, the pianist has steadily been developing his international career as sideman/leader (recording with the likes of Dave Liebman, Randy Brecker and Michael Gibbs); and now, this collection – described as his major international debut – confirms Nordic jazz of lucid intelligence fired by an unquenchable, crackling spirit.

From the outset, Pulsar reveals what it is that sets this trio apart – arresting, repeated piano figures (imagine Reich, Glass) and deeply-plumbed notes; relentless, skittering impetus; sudden, ‘deafening’ calm. Jangling, atonal freedom in For Rainbows becomes animated through broken piano chords and crisp bass/percussion; and Passages Pas Sages creeps icily to rapid, dull toms and expansive piano, the trio’s innate sense of intensifying exploration continually unveiling fresh expression and interest. Aleatoric grooves to Rissanen’s rich chordal depth and joyously rippling soloing (the piano detail is stunning, with Lötjönen and Mäkynen such an integral part of its make-up); and delicately ornamented étude, Signettes (studio video here), demands close attention.

A woody clarinet resonance is imaginable in the carefree, piano-octave swing of For Jimmy Giuffre – such a precise yet blithe trio performance all round. Rissanen’s growling keyboard vigour in virtuosic solo miniature Eye-Opener might equally suggest Ginastera or Gwilym Simcock, its brevity neatly leading into the dramatic swirl of Bird Vision (maybe Charlie Parker is the inspiration) which bounces off the walls with reveille-car-horn motif and jarring block-chord energy, as well as Lötjönen’s wonderfully propulsive jazz/rock-fusion bass and Mäkynen’s scintillating percussion. And, to close, title track Amorandom carries the emotive, crescendoing, piano-led yearning associated with Esbjörn Svensson – a depth of musicality which indicates that this might just be the beginning of this partnership’s long and productive journey.

The jazz piano trio format exists in many guises as an enduringly powerful, creative and emotional environment – and Rissanen, who enjoys the variety and eclecticism of all of the projects he’s involved in, humbly (and surprisingly) alludes to a mild concern that there are “too many good trios around and everything has been done before.” WAIT a minute! Put this album through a responsive sound system, and it may well become one of the finest you’ll hear this year. Outstanding.

Released on 4 March 2016, Amorandom can be purchased as CD or high quality download at Edition Records’ Bandcamp store.

 

Aki Rissanen piano
Antti Lötjönen double bass
Teppo Mäkynen drums

akirissanen.com

Edition Records – EDN1067 (2016)

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‘The Moon and the Bonfires’ – Roberto Olzer Trio

RobertoOlzerTrio

THE ATTRACTION of the Italian jazz piano trio continues to wax both luminously and poetically – and none more so than pianist Robert Olzer and colleagues Yuri Goloubev (double bass) and Mauro Beggio (drums).

Olzer was born in northern Italy, studying piano from an early age before going on to graduate in organ, piano and jazz improvisation in Milan. His trio was founded in 2011, previously releasing acclaimed debut album Steppin’ Out in 2013. The inspiration for this latest album, curiously titled The Moon and the Bonfires, is actually drawn from a novel of the same name by Italian writer Cesare Pavese; and Olzer sees something of his own musical career path in its theme – the need to constantly broaden horizons, yet also return to and preciously hold fast to one’s roots.

Comprising a variety of originals and arrangements – including impressions of Schumann and Poulenc – this recording exudes a passion and precision which appears to be synonymous with chamber jazz from this cultural confluence (as in the output of Giovanni Guidi, Michele Di Toro, the Alboran Trio, etc.). It may be an innate classical connection, cultivating the sublimity and deftness of touch associated with the music of, say, Locatelli or Albinoni; but somehow Olzer, Goloubev and Beggio suspend time with their magical partnership, either in intense rhythmic fervour or through exquisite, tenuto pools of quiet.

In all honesty, these eleven tracks have called me back so often, each encounter glinting a little differently; and, presided over by Stefano Amerio at the lauded Artesuono studios, the album’s clarity is assured. From the yearning yet mobile delicacy of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Bibo no Aozora (introduced by the open, romantic lyricism of Olzer’s piano solo, La bella estate) to Enrico Pieranunzi’s pressing Seaward, there is indubitable balance. The tender Andante from Poulenc’s Piano Concerto is re-imagined in the trio’s Adagio (from Piano Concerto), Goloubev’s characteristically-voiced arco lines serenely reflecting Olzer’s fragile water droplets; and the depth of the bassist’s lachrymose Little Requiem echoes Beethoven and hints at Tord Gustavsen, whilst his pizzicato extemporisations ensure a certain brightness.

Victor Young’s Beautiful Love (yes, that may trigger thoughts of Bing Crosby) is whisked away, almost unrecognisably, into a realm uplifted by Mauro Beggio’s delightful perpetuum mobile accuracy; and Robert Schumann’s emotional ‘lied’, Ich will meine Seele tauchen, is similarly disguised, but within a purposeful, contemporary waltz. It’s the subtleties which speak volumes throughout this session, title track La luna e i falo full of contrasts as Olzer’s lucidly rippling ostinati come up against fiery block chords and a solid percussive display; and Chris Collins’ fabulously-titled Gaelic romp, Muirruhgachs, Mermaids, and Mami Wata is unexpectedly calmed by Sting’s Wrapped Around Your Finger before its jaunty piano-and-bass reel is slammed with the full force of Beggio’s batteria – such joy! Completing the sequence, Goloubev paints watercolour images in Le Vieux Charme, and Olzer’s Chàrisma leaps energetically to his vigorously ornamented display.

Packaged within appealingly minimal cover art, The Moon and the Bonfires burns increasingly brightly in my estimation.

Available from record label Atelier Sawano and also Yuri Goloubev’s website.

 

Roberto Olzer piano
Yuri Goloubev double bass
Mauro Beggio drums

robertoolzer.com
yurigoloubev.com
maurobeggio.com

Atelier Sawano – AS147 (2015)

‘Treehouse’ – Tom Hewson Trio

Treehouse

A TRIO ALBUM with a difference, this has been swirling around in my head for some time now, captivating me with its cerebral and emotional effect on the senses.

The lofty soundscapes of the Tom Hewson Trio’s debut release, Treehouse – with magical combined timbres of piano, vibraphone and double bass – might evoke white-streamed morning mists and glistening, eddying streams, or equally possess a swinging, quicksilver sprightliness to raise an involuntary smile. It’s certainly an album of precise yet often fearless chamber jazz which demands close attention to its shifting complexities and frequent coruscations of beauty.

Described by one of Tom Hewson’s musical heroes – the late, respected John Taylor – as a pianist and “sublime composer” with a “ravishing and daring” style, he cites key musical discoveries which have helped shape his personality and career. As well as Taylor, these include the music of Ravel, Debussy, Paul Bley, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Bud Powell… and such influences become remarkably apparent across this album of ten originals. Hewson’s colleagues, since the trio’s inception in 2010, are Lewis Wright (vibes) and Calum Gourlay (double bass).

This project’s unwavering appeal is due in part to the mercurial weave of textures that is possible between the players, suggesting in the first few minutes of opening track Sparticle that any augmentation, especially percussion, might hinder this perfect synergy. Flowing French impressionism here melds easily with bold, syncopated rhythm; and sprightly solo piano passages become organically infused with gently dancing bass and the sustained chimes of vibraphone.

The democratic outlook of the trio is another important factor – title track Treehouse, for example, allowing Hewson to become rhythm maker beneath Wright’s glowing improvisations; rockin’-in-rhythm Glitch is predominantly a lively, Oscar Peterson-like piano-and-bass feature until previously subtle vibes flamboyantly (Gary Burton-style) steal the show; and, in contrast, Silver Strands and Gelsomina are both sensitively crafted, raindrop-splashed watercolours, their luscious harmonies possessing paradoxical contentment and melancholy.

Interspersing the main features are three solo improvisations from each instrumentalist, offering a window on their raw creativity and the overtones and resonances achievable; Gourlay’s harmonic arco bass exploration, sans effects, is particularly intriguing. Maybe suggesting the livelier side of Bill Evans, Not Relevant‘s bright swing is characterised by oscillating vibes and piano riffs, opening the door for clean-cut piano extemporisations as well as twinkling moments of repose. And Beanie’s Bounce (shades of Bouncing with Bud?) serves as a fabulous curtain call, its crackling verve showcasing each player’s physical and creative dexterity, with Hewson’s audacious, bluesy piano solo spot a standout.

You won’t often hear a jazz landscape as simultaneously sincere, eloquent and lucent as this, nor one which throws out shooting-star surprises each time it’s played. A rare and focused treasure from an adventurous British trio.

Treehouse is available directly from CAM JAZZ Presents, online and record store retailers, and also iTunes.

 

Tom Hewson piano
Lewis Wright vibraphone
Calum Gourlay bass

tomhewson.com

CAM JAZZ Presents (KEPACH Music) – CAMJ 3316-2 (2015)

‘Never Ending January’ – Espen Eriksen Trio

EspenEriksen

THE STEADFAST appeal of the jazz piano trio format continues with this limpid jewel from Norway. Following two previous releases (You Had Me At GoodbyeWhat Took You So Long) and led melodiously by pianist Espen Eriksen – with colleagues Lars Tormod Jenset (bass) and Andreas Bye (drums) – Never Ending January appears to find its lofty inspiration in misty, enforested, fjordal panoramas. And whilst that Scandinavian impression may be somewhat clichéd, this trio’s approach is, indeed, particularly elemental and spacial.

Read the full review at LondonJazz News…

 

Espen Eriksen piano
Lars Tormod Jenset double bass
Andreas Bye drums

espeneriksentrio.com

Rune Grammofon – RCD 2173 (2015)

‘Meeting at Night’ – Moonlight Saving Time

MST_300

THE HIGH TINGLE FACTOR created by a significant arrival on the British contemporary jazz scene is always rather special… and very much the case with Bristol-based Moonlight Saving Time.

Taking their name from a quaint 1930s love song favoured by American jazz vocalist/pianist Blossom Dearie, this quintet first demanded my attention a couple of years ago at Manchester Jazz Festival. As they launched into their opening number, from an early five-track EP, there was the sense of a defining moment as the charismatic presence of singer Emily Wright illuminated front-of-stage with her particularly expressive, silken storytelling. Yet this is only part of the story, for MST’s distinction is its ability to combine Wright’s eloquence with a seriously creative team of improvising instrumentalists – trumpeter Nick Malcolm, pianist Dale Hambridge, double bassist Will Harris and drummer Mark Whitlam.

Consequently, debut album Meeting at Night rejoices in an elegant synthesis of memorably original song, fine arrangement and crackling jazz extemporisation – a varietal, near-50-minute sequence which balances emotive atmospheres with sprightly charm. Frequently, the impression is of a gradual unfolding, with musical delights around each corner (rather than gleaning all there is to know inside the first minute), which surely is key to the band’s compelling performance here.

The elegantly flowing, layered vocals of Emily Wright are revealed in bassist Will Harris’s opener Clouds, as it rolls and tumbles to snappy rhythms, bright piano runs and peppy trumpet lines, bringing the swift realisation of a new sound world. Title track Meeting at Night (the words of Robert Browning set to music by Wright and Harris) possesses a delicious vocal and instrumental unpredictability, with Emily Wright’s clear annunciation and theatrical delivery reminiscent of Cleo Laine or Annie Ross; and saxophonist Jason Yarde guests alongside trumpeter Nick Malcolm to infuse the number with improvisational high jinx.

Lush harmonies in Will Harris’s brief Trio introduces the gorgeously lilting Silence is Here – again co-written by Harris and Wright, it shimmers to the purity of that unmistakable voice and the band’s dynamic ebb and flow, including effective multi-layered trumpet textures. One of the album’s surprises is pianist Dale Hambridge’s arrangement of great British composer John Ireland’s Sea Fever which, removed from its original baritone voice setting and offered to Emily Wright, retains all of its strong, evocative yearning. And following, Hambridge’s own Desire for Nothing Known dreamily waltzes to memorable vocal harmonisations and the pianist’s elegant elaborations, Mark Whitlam’s sparky percussion driving it on into greater complexity (and quite unlike anything on the current jazz scene).

Jason Yarde features again in Nick Malcolm’s Views (a sumptuous development of a track from his own album Beyond These Voices), which floats to typically imaginative alto sax; and the tight, wordless vocals of Emily Wright, particularly when fused into sax and trumpet, become redolent of Norma Winstone’s earlier work with Kenny Wheeler. A Calvin Harris song – I’m Not Alone – is pure magic in MST’s hands; with an initial vocal folksiness (accompanied by Will Harris’s gently chordal and percussive accompaniment), it dissolves into the most ravishing, memorable ballad, mirroring the album art’s coastal longing – and thanks to Malcolm’s inventive trumpet, underpinned by Dan Moore’s Hammond and the drum precision of Mark Whitlam, it never descends into mawkishness. From My Window (courtesy of another current songwriting talent, Jamie Doe) shuffles to echoic vocals and Hambridge’s electric piano, embellished by the trumpet’s curious seagull cries; and from the pen of Emily Wright, closing track Arthur’s Dance possesses a sense of joyous journeying, its breeziness suggesting radio-play potential.

A fine recording from a band with a great future, from both compositional and performance perspectives, Meeting at Night is already (in this final quarter of the year) prompting thoughts of the year’s best album releases. Released on 2 October 2015, it’s available in CD and digital formats from Bandcamp, as well as from online retailers and record stores.

 

Emily Wright vocals
Nick Malcolm trumpet
Dale Hambridge piano
Will Harris double bass
Mark Whitlam drums
with
Jason Yarde alto sax
Dan Moore Hammond organ

moonlightsavingtime.co.uk

MSTCD002 (2015)