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Songs for Trio
Wonders Never Cease
These three recent releases from Finnish drummer Klaus Suonsaari's KSJazz label highlight the enterprise's diversity while presenting some very fine music in clear and freshly present sound.
While not quite as radical as the material on another Finnish label like TUM, KSJazz' repertoire is never less than interesting, often at a deep structural level. Jarmo Savolainen's newest trio disc Songs for Trio, to cite one example, functions as a kind of suite. The "song series, seemingly derived from similar musical material, moves effortlessly from the tonal to the pan-tonal and back, Andrew Hill and Herbie Nichols serving as obvious influences. "The Other Side of the Coin , with its six-note repeating figure and temporally suspended quasi-Orientalist timbral trappings, speaks to an entirely different aesthetic, yet Savolainen's playing remains somehow wonderfully 'inside'. Not so for the clusteral "Spider Ballad , the other players joining him in the vicinity of Saturn. Bassist Ulf Krokfors and drummer Markky Ounaskari are extremely sympathetic throughout, the former providing some breathtaking melodies, especially on "Ambiguous Song . The great playing and constantly shifting material makes for a 'mixed bag' disc, in the best sense of the phrase.
Nordic Trinity exists in a similar sphere. The title track from Wonders Never Cease is one of those slow and nostalgically gorgeous tableaux that Allen Holdsworth might craft, but guitarist Mikko Iivanainen's playing is imbued with even more subtlety; he bends, swells and suddenly stops notes at the most microscopic level, as if Jeff Beck had dedicated himself exclusively to jazz over the past 30 years. Even more ethereally timeless is the playing of saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen, whose work is sorely neglected in this country. His playing employs the elastic vibrato and smooth rich tone associated with so many contemporary players and it's shocking to realize that he's a contemporary of Albert Ayler! Shocking, that is, until he blows free, as on the astonishing "Autumn Dance , as drums (Suonsaari) and guitar lend Mahavishnu Orchestra support to Aaltonen's Coltrane impressions. Much of the material is dreamy, ballad chords melting into each other as tempos stretch, loosen and tighten up again in a fog of sinewy saxophone and soft-edged guitar.
To say that bassist Chris Berger's debut offering Conversations is the straightest of this crop of releases is no pejorative. Indeed, his playing bears a remarkable resemblance to Krokfors' own studies in microtonal inflection, as the introduction to "Waltz for Tess makes plain. The compositions here are unapologetically retrovisionary, the title track a thoughtful foray into post-bop chromaticism. The playing is top-drawer, the irrepressible and always vibrant Jeff "Tain Watts bringing expected precision and vigor to "With the Clanging of Cymbals and to the sextet performance of the sophisticatedly lazy "Bluetain . These are just three of the many great jazz releases coming from KSJazz and from Finland in general, always a scene well worth in-depth exploration.
Tracks and Personnel
Songs for Trio
Tracks: What Future Will Bring; Spider Ballad; Maroc; Muted Song; Turning; Other Side of the Coin; Ambiguous Song; Past and Present; Our Side; Aspiring Song; Too Bad; Way Out.
Personnel: Jarmo Savolainen: piano; Uffe Krokfors: bass; Markku Ounaskari: drums.
Wonders Never Cease
Tracks: Wonders Never Cease; Offering; Passion; Autumn Dance; All My Yesterdays; Sininen Uni; Noble's Dream; Snarling Dogs; Peace of Mind.
Personnel: Juhani Aaltonen: tenor saxophone; Mikko Iivanainen: guitar; Klaus Suonsaari: drums, gong.
Tracks: Conversations; Ballad For Dominique; New Places, New Faces; Little D's Dance; Lost in 1506; Waltz for Tess; With the Clanging of Cymbals; Where or When; Blutain.
Personnel: Chris Berger: bass; Steve Wilson: alto and soprano saxophones; David Budway: piano; Jeff "Tain" Watts: drums; Loston Harris: piano; Marcus Parsley: trumpet; Joel Frahm: tenor saxophone.