Juhani Aaltonen Celebrates the Heroes of Finnish Jazz

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Since its inception, the Finnish Tum label's aim was to document the current, local jazz scene and to position it in a broader perspective—from seminal influences by local heroes, musicians from the first generation of Finnish Jazz, and formative forces from European jazz, mainly the Scandinavian ones. Almost 80-year old sax hero Juhani Aaltonen, born in 1935, embodies this vision perfectly as a musician who began his professional career alin 1958 and performed with all the great Finnish jazz musicians, including late drummer Edward Vesala, pianist Heikki Sarmanto, European heroes like Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, Norwegian double bassist Arild Andersen and the American rhythm section of double bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille. In the following new Tum album, Aaltonen celebrates the art of two close friends, double bassist and composer Antti Hytti and recently deceased trumpeter and composer Henrik Otto Donner.

Juhani Aaltonen
To Future Memories
TUM Records

Aaltonen played with Hytti in the mid-seventies, through Vesala bands, but then in the context of a free improvised setting. A decade later he began to appreciate his skills as a composer, when Hytti began involving him in film and theater projects. Aaltonen joined Hytti again for the recording of the large Suhka group, the first Tum label release, Suhkan Unka (2003), marking Aaltonen's return to an active musical career. Aaltonen was fascinated with Hytti's touching sense of melancholy and anguish, a mark Aaltonen interprets to a life lived, and like him, Hytti is a great storyteller with a strong vein of spirituality. Hytti sees Aaltonen as the figure who molded his musical path in a subtle way. Aaltonen quartet—pianist Iro Haarla, double bassist Ulf Krokfors and drummer Reino Leine—was expanded for this recording with two younger musicians—a second double bassist Ville Herrala and a percussionist Tatu Rönkkö. This extended format offers a richer, deeper rhythmic basis that enables the musicians to improvise and push themselves further.

The emotional ballad, "Reminiscence," written after a love affair ended, originally composed for the Stańko-Vasala quartet in the late seventies, the haunting title-piece dedicated to late author Jussi Kylätasku, and "All The Birds," after a poem by Katri Vala, feature the reserved, serene melancholy and sensitive, insightful spirituality of the Hytti compositions that fascinated Altonen all along. Aaltonen's powerful, searching tenor sax solos stress the way the transformed a spiritual vein in sax players John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders playing to a highly original, personal vocabulary of his own. His flute solos on "Kukunor," inspired by a poetic fairy tale , already recorded on Suhkan Unka, and the bass flute on the enigmatic "Hiisi," from a short film on Finnish mythology, highlight the new, sonic options of the extended quartet, opened with deep-toned, dark colors of the double bass and exotic percussive colors, while "All The Birds" emphasizes Haarla's beautiful, nuanced piano solo. "Haze" is the only piece that leaves behind the contemplative mode for thick, unison themes favored by Vesala, pushing this excellent group into unexpected, energetic free improvised terrains.

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

Kindred spirits Donner and Altonen began to collaborate in the early sixties. Both recorded the acclaimed Strings on Donner's Love label (1976), later rearranged as Strings Revisited (Tum, 2002). They continued to cooperate until Donner's untimely death in 2013 during the production of this recording, in which he he was deeply involved as the conductor of the strings section. Aaltonen describes Donner as a role- model, one who gave him the "courage to be myself," a kind of liberator, as an individual and as a musician, always searching for something new, searching to connect modern jazz with his understanding of contemporary classical music. Donner saw Aaltone as his alter ego on the tenor sax.

And It Happened... celebrates Donner's musical path, his rich sense of drama, profound melodic sensitivity, varying moods and restless need to experiment with new ways of composing. Aaltonen sees Donner's music as truly and foremost Finnish, rooted in Finnish soil, showing a willingness to dig deeper, to get one's hands dirty. The retrospective of eight Donner compositions, rearranged for the the 33-musician TUMO orchestra (its initials are translated as the Really New Music Orchestra), with soloists Aaltonen and vocalist Johanna Iivanainen portray faithfully one of the most important chapters in the history of Finnish jazz, as well as the Tum label, for which Donner was a trusted advisor.

The soulful "Junnudå?," the first piece, is a new arrangement from 1991, dedicated to Aaltonen, called Junnu by his colleagues. It can be translated as How about Junnu, then? and Aaltonen obviously grasps its melodic core perfectly, charging it with magnificent, expressive colors. Aaltonen is featured on two extended compositions for tenor sax soloist and big band, "Have Me, Hold Me" from 1985, for big band and strings, and the title-piece from 2007, only for the TUMO big band. Both songs emphasize Donner's interest in contemporary music and the nuanced manner of integrating Aaltonen's solo improvisations with the big band collective and the composed segments, enabling him to improvise freely in the extended, intense title-piece solo.

The clear, warm voice of Iivanainen graces Donner's compositions adapting the poems of Bo Carpelan, Johan Bargum and Bengt Ahifors, gently embraced by Aaltonen, trumpeter Marti Vesala and trombonist Kasperi Sarikoski. Her delivery of Emily Dickinson's "These Are The Days" with Aaltonen on alto flute, radiates with touching spiritual beauty. The last piece, the joyful, swinging "For Friends And Relatives" is actually Donner's first recorded composition from 1963, arranged for the big band, performed playfully as a fitting memory for Donner's diverse, gifted career.

Tracks and Personnel

To future Memories
Tracks: Reminiscence; Kukunor; To Future Memories (dedicated to Jussi Kylätasku); Hiisi; Ursula (for the Polish ladies); All The Birds; Haze.

Personnel: Juhani Aaltonen: tenor saxophone (1,3,5,6, 7), flute (2,4); bass flute (4); Iro Haarla: piano; Ulf Krokfors: double bass; Ville Herrala: double bass; Reino Laine: drums; Tatu Rönkkö: percussion.

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 (1,3,5,7), alto flute (6); Johanna Iivanainen: vocals (2,3,4,6); Mikko Hassinen: conductor, saxophone, clarinet, flute; Henrik Otto Donner: string conductor (3, 5,6,8). TUMO: Jukka Eskola: trumpet, flugelhorn; Kalevi Louhivuori: trumpet, flugelhorn; Tero Saarti: trumpet, flugelhorn; Martti Vesala: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jari Hongisto: trombone; Ilmari Pohjola: trombone; Kasperi Sarikoski: trombone; Mikael Långbacka: trombone; Kalle Hassinen: French horn; Mikko Marttila: tuba; Manuel Dunkel: saxophones, clarinet, flutes; Jussi Kannaste:saxophones, clarinet, flutes; Pentti Lahti: saxophones, clarinet, flutes; Pepa Päivinen: saxophones, clarinet, flutes; Seppo Kantonen: piano; Iro Haarla: harp; Ville Herrala: double bass; Ville Huolman: double bass; Markku Ounaskari: drums; Stefan Pasborg: drums; Mikaela Palmu: first violin; Helmi Kuusi: first violin; Kaisa Ivars: first violin; Isa Halme: first violin; Kreeta-Julia Heikkilä: second violin; Aino Eerola: second violin; Annica Brännkärr: second violin; Barbora Hilpo: viola; Carmen Moggach:viola; Maarit Holkko: viola; Iida-Vilhelmiina Laine: cello; Aino-Maija Riutamaa de Mata: cello.

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