The trio has always represented a certain spaciousness and abstraction in jazz: freedom of movement and promise of interaction. Playing to a full house in the newest incarnation of Jyvaskyla's Jazz Bar-after 10 years already an institution in Finland- saxophonist/flutist Juhani Aaltonen, an almost 40-year veteran of the Finnish free jazz scene, and his trio exploited all of those possibilities.
The trio, rounded out by bassist Uffe Krokfors and drummer Tom Nekljudow, displayed an intense level of interaction and a colorful range of expressiveness. Over the course of their eight-song set they travelled from the standard ("Nature Boy") to the free regions mapped out by Coltrane and Ayler, then beyond: navigating their own directions in original compositional sketches.
The 65-year-old Aaltonen combined the exuberance of youth-bubbling, unpredictable melodic lines and compulsive, kinetic swaying stage presence-with the wit and wisdom of experience-a dramatic sense of structure and respect for tradition-to serve as the focal point for the group's improvisations. The result: restless, dynamic music that suggested none of the players are simply content to mimic tradition. Their "Nature Boy", underpinned by a deconstructed subterranean rhythm, rasped in the voice of some tortured ghost; at once an exorcism and a tribute. Aaltonen on flute made"Reflections" something lost, something shipwrecked, something broke wanting fixing. Their "Tribute to Coltrane" exploded with angry, aggressive drumming and Aaltonen's tenor sax smearing ruptured phrases around the room. Krokfor's razor-sharp tone played the perfect complement to Aaltonen's stacking of parch-dry melodic fragments one on top of each other. The trio created a jagged, fragile sound that could float as ether or swing with force, as it did on their "be-bop ballad" (the group's internal working title)-Monk meets Coltrane's "Spiritual" filtered through 40 years of developing tradition, the impulse of the moment and the desire to push forward.
Here was spontaneous, expressive music played with passion and just the right balance of forethought and freedom. Hopefully this group will be given more space in the future to explore their ideas.