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Album Review

Sooäär-Yaralyan-Ounaskari: Goodbye July

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Sooäär-Yaralyan-Ounaskari: Goodbye July
Estonian guitarist Jaak Sooäär, Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari and Armenian bassist Ara Yaralyan first joined ranks in 2016, though all three have been active across the Baltic jazz scenes since the 1990s. Sooäär has collaborated with veterans such as Anders Jormin, Han Bennink and Vladimir Tarasov, Ounaskari with Arve Henriksen and Tore Brunborg, while Yaralyan has played with Verneri Pohjola and Vardan Ovsepian, and is a regular in the trio of Kari Ikonen. The trio's debut, Shooting Star (o-tone music, 2018) was a mellow, melodically bright offering of understated charm. Goodbye July comes from the same wellspring, with just the occasional rush of adrenaline attesting to Sooäär's parallel appetite for rock.

Six of the eight tracks were penned by Sooäär, whose forte seems to be ruminative compositions of lyrical bent. Whispering brushes and economical bass provide the bedrock for the guitarist's elegant play on "November Rose," his gentle meditations unfolding into medium tempo runs of sparkling clarity. There's a softly shimmering quality to Sooäär's strings on "Teisele Kaldale," his slow arpeggios providing a subtle backdrop to Yaralyan's plaintive arco lines. The textural contrasts in the trio's interplay—Yaralyan's chamber bowing and earthy plucking, Ounaskari's soft brushes and pressed roles, and Sooäär's painterly sonorities and sculpted runs—wring the maximum effect out of uncluttered compositions.

Fast-riffing guitar signals greater collective urgency on "Roomus Vang/Cheerful Prisoner," with churning bass and snappy drums propelling the impressive Sooäär on an animated excursion that inhabits similar terrain to the edgy, blues-tinged jazz-rock of Christy Doran's groups. The trio adopts a more patient approach to the title track, with Sooäär's feathery arpeggios and Yaralyan's measured bass solo ceding ground to meaty chordal progressions and rhythmic churn before calm once more descends. Yaralan's arrangements of a brace of traditional/popular Armenian tunes steers the trio towards the fringes of folksy pastoralism; on "Mer tan itev" the ethnic roots suggest themselves in Yaralan's bowed solo; on Gevorg Dodokhyan's gorgeous ballad "Swallow," melody is more pronounced, with bassist and guitarist both casting bewitching spells.

Atmospheric arco and twirling arpeggio bookend "Four Months," a curious hybrid that veers uncertainly between the yearning lyricism of Sooäär's improvisation and heavy riffing. The trio saves the best to last with "Vaga vesi," an aching ballad of fine collective ballast and tenderly wrought solos.

Two albums in and Sooäär, Ounaskari and Yaralyan have established a clear identity; melody is the blood in the trio's veins. Without raising the decibel count too much, Goodbye July makes a quietly seductive case for the lyricism inherent in a less-is-more approach.

Track Listing

November Rose; Teisele Kaldale; Roomus Vang/Cheerful Prisoner; Goodbye July; Mer tan itev; Swallow; Four Month; Vaga vesi.

Personnel

Jaak Sooäär: guitar; Markku Ounaskari: drums; Ara Yaralyan: bass, acoustic.

Album information

Title: Goodbye July | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: o-tone music


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