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Jussi Reijonen At Espoo Cultural Center

Jussi Reijonen At Espoo Cultural Center

Courtesy Parisa Khojasteh


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Three Seconds/Kolme Toista is spellbinding from beginning to end, and full of virtuoso performances; it is one of the best recordings of 2022.
—Karl Ackermann
Jussi Reijonen
Espoo Cultural Center
Espoo, Finland
February 24, 2023

Sometimes the best of things come unexpectedly, but considering the one-year anniversary on this date that is certainly not always true. However this gig in the Finnish capital region's Espoo public arts center, including the local library, music school auditorium and cosy basement stage, was an unintended blessing, accompanying a friend and with zero knowledge of this New York-based Finnish artist.

Truth to tell Jussi Reijonen seemed himself surprised to see so many in the audience, this auspicious Friday night. Seating a maximum of 240, the Louhi hall (itself named after a character in the Finnish epic, the Kalevala) was well-filled with a variety of ages, intent on seeing this well-traveled but rarely spotted local artist. Actually, his original locality is at the other end of this most eastern Nordic country, Rovaniemi 60km south of the Arctic Circle, and site of the last of his four concerts in his home country. Born there in 1981, Reijonen grew up with his family in a variety of Middle-Eastern and African countries, but returned to his homeland for those critical adolescent years—not that the influence was obviously audible this snowy February night.

This concert saw the touring premiere of his recent opus, Three Seconds| Kolme Toista, a title enigmatic in both his working languages. Drawing on this disparate background Reijonen has concocted a suite that highlights both the eastern and western influences ("I am still a great fan of Guns and Roses"), which he himself defines as 'transcultural music influenced by jazz, rock, western art music, Arabic, African music and Indian rhythms.' To portray the sounds Reijonen filled the stage in Espoo with eight other musicians, principally resident in the US, but including Ukrainian pianist Maxim Lubarsky flying in from Switzerland. As one might expect with a big band that included piano, cello and violin as well as a 2-man brass section, a bassist, a percussionist and a full drum kit powered by the youthful Zach Mullings, all manner of musical interplay was on offer

The clean sheet from the first half of this concert, comprising the titled work (reviewed here) was by the end of the section a crumpled ball, almost pulp! The five parts, starting from Reijonen's single acoustic guitar chord, progress through multiple timbral mashups between the nine players, culminating in a piano-based, multi-instrumental resolution. There was an intensity in the performance, maybe heightened by the inclusion of two new participants in Reijonen's 'family' which made for a demanding listening experience. The contrasting styles of the robust New York drummer, a virtuoso Iraqi violinist, an often ethereal Nordic guitarist and oudist (not to mention the other six instrumentalists) were hard to take all on board, but never fell short of mesmerizing.

The second half of the concert was easier to follow, being three pieces with disparate themes but all from his debut album Un (Unmusic, 2013) started out with a dedication to his former guitar teacher at Berkeley, Mick Goodrick. More than just a blues jam, "Toumani" is a moving but sparer piece (no brass here) based around Reijonen's finger-picked solo guitar. The second piece saw the whole ensemble again on stage and Reijonen behind his multi-stringed fretless oud, playing "Serpentine," the opening track on Un. The interplay between the two principal bowed instruments, violin and cello, defines the middle-eastern sound at one end of the spectrum of this ensemble, while still leaving space for the brass players to complete the rainbow range. The concert finished with more of a jam, "Kaiku," Finnish for 'echo,' which closed this evening's very resonant music.

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