Jukka Tolonen: Cool Train - Tolonen Plays Coltrane! (2006)

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Jukka Tolonen: Cool Train - Tolonen Plays Coltrane!
If Coltrane is an acquired taste for you, this album might be a palatable way to start. Cool Train sounds like what one expects from a rock/fusion player who's been performing for nearly four decades. Whether this spoon-feeding of well-known songs is a good thing is very much in the ears of the beholder. Hooks snag listeners easily, and the playing is more skillful and reverential than the fusion-oriented arrangements might suggest. But the rockish sounds and thoughts may clash with the tastes of some like salsa on steak.

Jukka Tolonen, promoted as "Finland's national guitar hero," has written most of the material for the estimated forty albums he's been a prominent part of, including music by the Tsavallan Presidentti fusion group. His versatility cannot be questioned: He gets popular mention at heavy metal fan sites, and blues guitar legend John Mayall said during the 1990s that Tolonen has "the best Django style guitar playing (that) I have heard for ages."

This Coltrane album shifts between fusion and traditional during most songs. Most are comfortingly familiar, a somewhat contradictory and disconcerting concept when dealing with Coltrane's music. Some of this is the selection of well-known pieces, but there's also a sense the sharpest edges have been filed off during their stay at the halfway house of fusion.

The opening "Giant Steps" features a mellow minute-long piano prelude, a simple guitar chorus that shifts to a distorted electric tone the second time through, then retreats to the first tone for a solo that follows the Trane form nicely. About halfway through the distorted electric is back for a brief appearance, followed by Joonas Haavisto's commendable emulation of the era on a Rhodes.

"Lonnie's Lament" provides a mellow canvas for Tolonen's West Coast-like note-by-note enunciation, again shifting from jazz electric to rock near the end. The split formula returns and are already starting to sound weary on "Impressions," although drummer Jaska Lukkarinen contributes a series of rolling solos near the end that are strong on articulation and tastefully restrained in volume.

Something of a welcome departure from formula comes on "Naima," which is dominated by subtle melodic touches from Tolonen's chorused guitar and Haavisto on piano, their lines at times intertwining with pleasing compatibility. Double bassist Jaska Lukkarinen gets his moment in the spotlight by taking lead voicing duties on "Afro Blue," although his long-note solo gets more points for being easy to follow than evidencing artistic technique or originality. The mixed approach continues through the final three songs, with the inclination to praise checked by a sudden shift in mood and/or timbre (although the closing "Resolution" has an extra kick in energy worth hearing).

Ultimately, the problem with Tolonen's album isn't the concept of frequently shifting ideas as much as execution. Instead of feeling like a logical evolution, these songs seem like separate pieces assembled slightly awkwardly, disrupting positive moments rather than building on them. But its accessibility is a plus, especially for modern listeners who find the classics too much to digest.

Track Listing: Giant Steps; Lonnie's Lament; Impressions; Naima; Afro Blue; Lazy Bird; Moment's Notice; Resolution.

Personnel: Jukka Tolonen: guitars; Joonas Haavisto: piano and Rhodes; Teemu Keranen: double bass; Jaska Lukkarinen: drums.

Record Label: Prophone Records

Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock


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