Rolling Thunder fills its music with alternating stretches of probing improvisation and restless silence. Instead of a fire that burns, the music on Live in Japan
ripples: notes are tossed into the placid silence and their waves flow outwards until they gradually dissipate at the edges of hearing. They free the listener from analyzing the music down into recognizable forms; musical structures become invisible vehicles that deliver the group’s emotionally charged explorations.
Recorded during the quartet’s 2003 Japanese tour, Live in Japan represents a more subdued version of Coltrane’s unbounded musical aesthetic, his raw tonal colors, passages of reckless swing, simple song forms and unceasing restlessness. They even interpret Coltrane’s only recorded flute feature, ”To Be.” The music diverges from Coltrane by featuring more silence, evoking Edward Vesala, the Finnish drummer and composer with whom the quartet shares connections both personal and musical.
Pianist and harpist Iro Haarla arranged much of Vesala’s music, and she has brought the same sparse reflection to Rolling Thunder. Her ”Yarra Yarra” drifts on the back of fluttering arpeggios and drummer Tom Nekljudow’s feathery cymbals swaddle the cold, quiet corners she leaves. Tenor saxophonist Jorma Tapio and bassist Ulf Korkfors strain this reflective mood with more aggressive ideas. Tapio mutters wounded, rounded sobs and Krokfors’ bass grows more blunt and brute as the group progresses. They move dangerously close to breakdown before Haarla soothes the wound with lighter, healing tones.
The songs often arrive at a total standstill: a single piano chord is struck, resonates, and then disappears. The effect creates an unfulfilled expectation in the listener that draws one backwards into memory and longing, adrift on ungraspable moments.
Krokfors' ”Mellansong” and ”Tuuliviiri” build their tension on these standstills. Both begin with relentless bass solos then develop through contrasting moods. Tapio enters ”Mellansong” with thick, graceful tones on the flute, backed by Haarla’s pointed, distorted chord shapes and piercing single notes. After Krokfors splits the silence with a taut arco intro on “Tuuliviiri,” Tapio swathes the fissures with his fragile bass clarinet, followed by Haarla’s sharply attacked, yet brittle harp figures. These passages eventually fade into silence, only to be reborn with a bolder, more energetic attack.
The quartet can also bristle with ecstatic abandon. On ”Farewell Song,” Krokfors’ pours liquid runs, fiercely chords and drops booming accents that lock in with Nekljudow’s boozy swing and shattering cymbal crashes. Tapio climbs to towering peaks on tenor and Haarla teases a moment of relative calm with an abstract, blues-tinged solo, under which Krokfors and Nekljudow continue their furious dialogue. Tapio laces his own ”Moving Finger” with scorching runs that flow from deep grumbles to screeching rasps, exhorting the group to the album’s most incendiary performance.
By smelting together Coltrane’s fervid explorations and Vesala’s reflective meditations, Rolling Thunder extracts its own impassioned voice, one that shouts with gentle force and soothes with intense touch.
Personnel: Iro Haarla: piano, harp; Jorma Tapio: tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute; Ulf Krokfors: bass; Tom Nekljudow: drums