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Esa Helasvuo: Stella Nova

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Esa Helasvuo: Stella Nova Pianist Esa Helasvuo is one of the pioneers of the Finnish improvised music scene. An experienced artist and former educator at the acclaimed Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Helasvuo has collaborated with the best improvisers in that scene—including drummer Edward Vesala, bassist Teppo Hauta-aho and saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen—and composed music for various orchestras and choirs, as well as for the stage, films, television and radio. Unfortunately, this mature and underrated musician has not recorded in over twenty years.

Stella Nova (TUM Records, 2013) celebrates the four decades that have passed since the release of Helasvuo's first recording in 1973, and that have borne witness to his increasing focus on free improvisation. It is a set of nine lyrical, intimate and spontaneous solo piano improvisations—best described by Helasvuo himself as a "passion to paint space and time on paths into the unknown, suggested by sounds"—and one cover of a popular Finnish tango. For Helasvuo, free improvisation is a journey split between rationality and chaos; one that takes him in opposite directions but which, despite swaying on the tracks, reaches its destination.

From the first notes of the quiet ballad "To Feel You Is To love You," to "Intimacy" and "Boa Noiti Meu Amor"—the latter is an arrangement from his 1976 duo recording with Vesala—it is clear that Helasvuo is a master storyteller who can draw a touching love story in a concise, beautiful phrase, yet still leave it open to many interpretations. The title piece is a poetic attempt to portray the current era through the grand piano, alternating between spare chaos and fleeting order, concluding that nothing is eternal within the constant flow of events. The manner in which Helasvuo structures this improvisation, with its recurring, slowly changing theme, is very close to the solo piano improvisations of Keith Jarrett. "Kisumu," named after the Kenyan city located in the Lake Victoria basin, is a vivid and touching sonic portrait of the churning life of this East African metropolis, and one which captures its despair and hopelessness.

After the contemplative improvisation of "Improwise," Helasvuo offers an elegant, emotional cover of the tango "Satumaa" that was popular in Finland during the fifties and sixties. He then frames this with another contemplative piece, "Figuring Out The Sky," an improvisation that uses the idea of transforming graphic thinking into music. He concludes with two emotional pieces: "Souvenir," a clear simple theme that was originally composed for a TV series, and used as a means to bringing feelings to the surface; and "Blues Addiction," a humble tribute to the deeper current that runs through all of Helasvuo's repertoire. Stella Nova a most welcome return of a master musician and improviser.


Track Listing: To Feel You Is To Love You; Stella Nova; Intimacy; Kisumu; Boa Noiti Meu Amor; Improwise; Satumaa; Figuring Out The Sky; Souvenir; Blues Addiction .

Personnel: Esa Helasvuo: piano.

Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: TUM Records


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