An Intriguing Twofer from TUM Records: Henrik Otto Donner's And It Happened and Juhani Aaltonen's To Future Memories

Hrayr Attarian By

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The Finnish label TUM has made its mission to shed light on native talent. The world at large is familiar with a few of the country's improvisers, like drummer Edward Vesala and saxophonist/flutist Esa Pethman, but many other, equally gifted musicians remain obscure to non-Finns. In the span of 11 years since its inception, TUM has accomplished a lot, in remedying the situation by recording and releasing primarily the works of local jazzmen and jazz-women. The sumptuously designed digipaks include detailed liner notes in English and use, as cover art, works by local painters. Thus the imprint introduces to the international scene both its nation's visual art and its music. Two of TUM's albums from 2013 succeed in this aim exceptionally well.

Henrik Otto Donner & TUMO
And It Happenned...
TUM Records

Composer and conductor Henrik Otto Donner who passed away very shortly after cutting this session, was a scion of the modern music scene in Finland. His trademark approach was a synthesis of classical sensibilities and the fluidity of the bebop tradition, peppered with folk hints. His final record, And It Happened brings together eight of his originals that span five decades. The improvisational collective TUMO, augmented by two guest soloists, a doyen of woodwind players Juhani Aaltonen and lyrical vocalist Johanna Iivanainen, superbly interprets these vignettes from Donner's career with a dynamic vibrancy and sophisticated brilliance.

The title track, composed in 2007, crystalizes the essence of Donner's vision and style. The dramatic piece starts with Aaltonen's open, circular phrases over angular piano, bass and drums interplay. The cooperative ad-libbing evolves along intricate and provocative patterns, flirting with but never giving in to atonality. The big band's darkly hued symphonic refrains support Aaltonen's stimulation saxophone. Aaltonen's haunting unaccompanied tenor blossoms into a free flowing, stream of consciousness, replete with growls. The tune closes with the larger ensemble's undulating sounds and a languid, intimate atmosphere.

TUMO itself includes many a proficient soloist as the exhilarating "For Friends and Relatives" (from 1963) demonstrates. The theatrical yet mercurial piece brims with thrilling spontaneity as trumpeters Jorma Kalevi Louhivuori and Tero Saarti take turns in the spotlight blowing complex, imaginative lines over the orchestra's cinematic harmonies.

Elsewhere, trombonist Karpesi Sarikoski concludes Emily Dickinson's "These Are The Days," with a pensive, sophisticated growling solo. The enchanting song features Iivanainen's charming, lithe voice as she articulates the lyrics with a pastoral delight. Aaltonen's resonant alto flute floats over TUMO's shimmering tones.

Iivanainen's emotive singing takes center stage on three, contemporary, Finnish poems. "Entreaty" for instance is a dramatic modern aria with folkish hints. Trumpeter Martti Vesala's languid horn contrast with the band's beseeching roar.

Late painter Leena Luostarinen's splendid "Lootuskuka (Lotus Flower)," aptly graces the front of this superb disc, that makes evident Donner's work's undeniable universal appeal. It hopefully will, albeit posthumously, bring him the international recognition he so deserves.

Enter the album name hereJuhani Aaltonen
To Future Memories
TUM Records

Aaltonen's own date on the label To Future Memoriesis a more introspective and explorative affair. The veteran reedman is joined by his unique sextet, an amplified version of a rhythm trio with two bassists and two percussionists. The result is a strikingly tense and intricately woven sonic tapestry.

On the darkly poetic "Kukunor" for instance Aaltonen's muscular and agile flute pirouettes over the rustling, sparse and overlapping cadent structures that pianist and harpist Iro Haarla's chiming keys punctuate. The impression it creates is that of an otherworldly field with a mythical bird soaring over it.

Bassist Ville Herrala's unaccompanied pizzicato improvisation echoes against percussionist Tatu Rönkkö's metallic swooshes and vibrations setting an expectant ambience on the title track. Aaltonen's nostalgic and intelligent monologue is full of pensive, well-articulated phrases that dovetail into Haarla's understated and sublimely elegiac extemporization. Haarla, backed by drummer Reino Laine's insistent but elegant rumble and Rönkkö's carefully placed sonic swirls brings in a nocturnesque and mystical feel.

There is also plenty of passion on this consistently engaging CD. The vividly ardent "Haze" opens with a stimulating dialogue between Laine's polyrhythms and Rönkkö's peals and clangs. Aaltonen's, vibrato filled tenor floods the tune with a fiery spontaneity as the band maintains an angular and intriguing atmosphere by cleverly flirting with dissonance. The climax of the piece is the memorable and exhilarating bass duet as Herrala throws out sharp, fast con arco phrases that contrast and complement bassist Ulf Krokfors' limber and thrilling plucked strings.

The haunting "Hilsi" features Herrala's bowed mournful drone and Krokfors' melancholic reverberations framing Aaltonen's stirring and longing bass flute. His complex improvisation expands over the rhythmic embellishments that also include Laine's restless thunderous beats and Haarla's cascading, chiming notes echoing against Ronkko's tolling bells. As the piece evolves a sense of spiritual unity imbues the interplay with individual ideas fusing into a greater whole. A pioneer of Finnish jazz Aaltonen, with this exquisite album, demonstrates that age has not dampened his intrepid mind or his dynamic musicianship. On the contrary with maturity his enthusiasm and his sense of experimentation have crystalized into a singular and enthralling outlook.

Tracks and Personnel

And It Happened....

Tracks: Junnudå; Close Your Eyes; Entreaty; The First Summer; Have Me, Hold Me; These Are The Days; And It Happened...; For Friends And Relatives

Personnel: Juhani Aaltonen: tenor saxophone and alto flute; Johanna Iivanainen: vocals; Mikko Hassinen: conductor; Henrik Otto Donner: conductor; Jukka Eskola: trumpet; Kalevi Louhivuori: trumpet; Tero Saarti: trumpet; Martti Vesala: trumpet and fluegelhorn; Jari Hongisto: trombone; Ilmari Pohjola: trombone; Kasperi Sarikoski: trombone; Mikael Långbacka: trombone; Kalle Hassinen: French horn; Mikko Marttila: tuba Manuel Dunkel: reeds; Jussi Kannaste: reeds; Mikko Innanen: reeds; Pentti Lahti: reeds; Pepa Päivinen: reeds; Seppo Kantonen: piano; Iro Haarla: harp; Ville Herrala: double bass; Ville Huolman: double bass; Markku Ounaskari: drums; Stefan Pasborg: drums; Mikaela Palmu: violin, Helmi Kuusi: violin; Kaisa Ivars: violin; Isa Halme: violin; Kreeta-Julia Heikkilä: violin; Aino Eerola: violin; Annica Brännkärr: violin; Barbora Hilpo: viola; Carmen Moggach: viola; Maarit Holkko: viola; Iida-Vilhelmiina Laine: cello; Aino-Maija Riutamaa de Mata: cello.

To Future Memories

Track Listing: Reminiscence; Kukunor; To Future Memories; Hilsi; Ursala; All the Birds; Haze.

Personnel: Juhani Aaltonen: tenor saxophone, flute, bass flute; Iro Haarla: piano,harp; Ulf Krokfors: bass; Ville Herrala: bass; Reino Laine: drums; Tatu Ronkko: percussion.


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