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Juhani Aaltonen & Iro Haarla: Kirkastus

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Juhani Aaltonen & Iro Haarla: Kirkastus
The most striking thing about Kirkastus—a duo outing by a pair of seasoned Finnish free jazzers, saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen and pianist/harpist Iro Haarla—is the unalloyed beauty of the sound they've made. Aaltonen, in his eighth decade now, has the longer term veteran's credentials. His saxophone style draws from late period John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders, with moments of growling and feral roars, subdued and refined here, and set beside moments of reverie and introspection and nuanced story-telling, with the occasional classy and gracious "Ben Webster (of Duke Ellington Orchestra fame) woosh," sounding like he's letting the soul of the saxophone free to greet the day.

But the saxophonist is only half the duo. The pianist side of the team, Iro Haarla, wrote all the tunes; and Kirkastus—as democratic as the the instrumental inputs are—seems like Iro Harla's disc.

Haarla began her career in earnest in the late 70s accompanying Finnish drummer Edward Vesala. It was a musical and marital relationship that lasted until the drummer's death in 1999. She has since brought her own artistry to the forefront, with two marvelous recordings on ECM Records, Northbound (2006) and Vespers (2011), as well as contributing as a sideperson on TUM Records sets by Aaltonen and bassist Ulf Krokfors, in addition to her leader recording on TUM, Kolibri (2014).

On Kirkastus, Haarla's classical-informed piano melds to perfection with Aaltonen's saxophone. The pianist often employs a spare approach in her ensemble work. In the duet she uses a lusher, angelic sound, on piano as well a harp. Haarla's compositions draw inspiration from her spirituality, specifically Biblical Psalms. The music sounds like an existential search for truth and beauty, not unlike the Coltrane's quest that veered in a more serene direction when Alice Coltrane entered his life and music.

The set's title tune, "a celebration of the glorification of a human being—the victory of the light of love," is perhaps the "freest" segment of the set with Aaltonen's most powerful playing. "Farewell to Valomaki" is the saddest tune on record since Keith Jarrett laid down a version—in duet with bassist Charlie Haden—of Gordon Jenkins' "Goodbye." And "Lead Me to the Rock," inspired by Psalm 61, is tranquility, achieved via the artists' consummate skills combined with the spiritual underpinnings that build a stand-on-the-rock foundation for this gorgeous music.

Track Listing

Evening Prayer; Out of the Depths; Still Waters; Kirkastus; Arie--A Song for Lost Love; Nightjar; Farewell to Valomaki; Long Sole Sound;Hear Me Cry;Lead Me to the Rock.

Personnel

Juhani Aaltonen: tenor saxophone (1, 3, 4 ,6, 7, 9, 10), flute (2), alto flute (5), bass flute (8); Iro Haarla: piano (1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10), harp (3, 6, 8), chen (6), percussion (2).

Album information

Title: Kirkastus | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: TUM Records

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