Heikki Sarmanto: Moonflower, A Boston Date & Counterbalance
Porter Records, one of the most unpretentiously eclectic labels around today, now has three titles by Finnish composer/pianist Heikki Sarmanto in its already diverse catalogue. They speak to his range and subtlety as a composer and performer, not to mention demonstrating the fruits of continued collaboration.
The newest disc on offer is Moonflower, but Sarmanto uses musicians that have worked with him in various capacities for more than 30 years. The results are gorgeous, each moment full of rhythmic and melodic detail. Just check out the different kinds of swing informing the two versions of "At the Fountain" to hear this quartet interact, blues and balladry mixing in two penetrating studies of triple meter. Drummer Craig Herndon is beautifully subtle and never shies away from gorgeously intimate brush and cymbal work. This album is more straightforward than its counterparts, but don't be fooled by the soft veneer; there are snakily deceptive runs from saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen which complement the sinewy-sweet melody of a track such as "Run". Equally fascinating are the multi-rhythmic experiments of "African Echos," Sarmanto's keyboard work almost Monkish in its sparseness.
Only occasionally does Aaltonen show signs of his growlingly Ayler-esque roots, evident throughout the other two discs. A Boston Date is a previously unreleased outing from late 1970 and it's the most blatantly experimental of those on offer. All group members are obviously firing on all cylinders and the music swings between jazz and some other unnameable but freer trope as Sarmanto finds himself in Keith Jarrett American Quartet territory. The epic "Top of the Prude" is a case in point, swinging in and out of steady tempo and rhythm at key moments. The guitarwork of Lance Gunderson brings a slightly fusion feel to the proceedings.
This also occurs on Counterbalance, the first studio recording by this group, originally released on EMI in 1971. Here, we are treated to very different versions of some of the pieces that would appear on Moonflower, including that album's title track. Sarmanto is on electric piano and Aaltonen's flute work is exquisite as the track follows its meditative path. In stark contrast, "Seagull" exudes raw energy as Sarmanto slams power chords out of his instrument before everything kicks into high gear with a dramatic tempo increase. The recording is slightly distorted at key moments, but is a welcome reissue and one hopes this trilogy of releases will introduce many to Sarmanto's fine contributions.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Moonflower; At The Fountain; Madame Chaloff; Wolf; African Echoes; Jai Guru Dev.
Personnel: Heikki Sarmanto: piano; Juhani Aaltonen: tenor sax; Pekka Sarmanto: bass; Craig Herndon: drums.
A Boston Date
Tracks: MC; Run; Grass Dream; Ibiza; A Different Kind Of Smile; Top Of The Prude.
Personnel: Heikki Sarmanto: piano; Juhani Aaltonen: tenor sax; Lance Gunderson: guitar; George Mraz: bass; Craig Herndon: drums.
Tracks: Azure Skies; Jai Guru Dev; Wolf; Moonflower; Counterbalance.
Personnel: Heikki Sarmanto: piano; Juhani Aaltonen: tenor sax; Lance Gunderson: guitar; Pekka Sarmanto: bass; Craig Herndon: drums.