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Aki Rissanen



by Ian Mann

March 08, 2016


With its tightly focussed energy, superb musicianship and high levels of group interaction “Amorandom” represents an impressive statement of intent from Rissanen and his team.

Aki Rissanen


(Edition Records EDN 1067)

The Finnish pianist and composer Aki Rissanen (born 1980) is considered to be something of a rising star on the international jazz scene. Following studies in Finland, France, Germany and the US he has established a successful career as both a leader and a sideman and has collaborated with many leading musicians from both sides of the Atlantic, among them the American saxophonists Dave Liebman and Rick Margitza.

UK listeners will perhaps be most familiar with his playing as a member of trumpeter Verneri Pohjola’s quartet. The pianist appeared on both of his compatriot’s albums for ACT, “Aurora” (2011) and “Ancient History” (2012) before making his Edition début on Pohjola’s first album for the label, “Bullhorn” (2015). In 2013 I was fortunate enough to witness Rissanen performing live with the Pohjola quartet at that year’s London Jazz Festival.

Away from the Pohjola group Rissanen co-leads the international Frozen Gainsbourg Quintet with saxophonist Mikko Innanen. He also leads the trio Aleatoric featuring drummer/percussionist Markku Ounaskari and Belgian born saxophonist Robin Verheyen. This group’s 2013 début album, then released under the name of the Aki Rissanen Trio, is reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.

Rissanen has released a total of seven albums under his own name including two solo piano recordings. “Amorandom” represents his international début as a leader and features him in an ‘orthodox’ piano trio setting alongside bassist Antti Lotjonen (also a member of the Verneri Pohjola Quartet) and drummer Teppo Makynen, leader of the acclaimed Finnish band Five Corners Quintet.

The music on “Amorandom” is based on the soundtrack to an animation movie that Rissanen composed several years ago. The film was directed by Tuula Leinonen and animated by the “grand old man” of the Finnish animation scene Antti Peranne. As Rissanen explains in his album notes the music has gone through many stages of transformation since but still retains a cinematic flavour. The pianist also comments that he “felt mature enough not to hide my musical influences”  but that “at the same time I feel that my own voice is more present than ever before”.

As if to emphasise the democratic and interactive nature of the trio the opening track “Pulsar” begins with the sound of bass and drums and the sense of this being a tightly knit unit is there from the off. The strong rhythmic focus of this opening piece is sometimes reminiscent of label mates Phronesis as Rissanen stretches out feverishly on the angular theme above the busy, odd meter bass and drum grooves. It’s an exciting and attention grabbing opener, even Lotjonen’s passage of sparse solo bass mid tune seems to bristle with intent.

“For Rainbows” has a more abstract and exploratory feel with Makynen supplementing the sound of his kit with various small percussive devices. His cymbal work is particularly impressive, like a shimmering rain forest, as he shadows Rissanen’s melodic flights of fancy at the keyboard.

“Paysages Pas Sages” is based around Lotjonen’s opening bass motif and exhibits a compulsive, hypnotic quality as the piece unfolds with Makynen’s hand drumming playing a key role as Rissanen’s playing becomes ever more intense. With its emphasis on repeated rhythmic figures there’s something of a minimalist influence here, this allied to the kind of freshness and joyousness that one used to associate with the music of the much missed E.S.T.

“Aleatoric” appears in a different guise to the version recorded with Ounaskari and Verheyen. With bass and drums there’s a greater emphasis on rhythm but it has to be said that “Aleatoric”, the album, exhibited a great deal more rhythmic drive and improvisatory rigour than one would normally expect from what was ostensibly a ‘chamber jazz’ line up. The piano/bass/drums interpretation retains something of the lyricism of the original thanks to the quality of Rissanen’s melody but there’s the now customary tightly focussed energy too.

Instead it’s the melodic and wistful “Signettes” that is effectively this album’s ballad with Rissanen’s flowing lyricism complemented by melodious bass and colourfully brushed drums, but with the music subsequently gaining greater momentum in the tune’s later stages.

“For Jimmy Guiffre” also highlights the gentler side of the band as Rissanen pays homage to one of those ‘musical influences’ referred to previously. The pianist’s soloing is imaginative and thoughtful and Makynen turns in a brilliant brushed drum solo, exhibiting a wealth of colour and invention while remaining effortlessly tasteful and innately musical.

The brief “Eye Opener” is a minute and a half of solo piano that hints at Rissanen’s early classical training while also displaying a percussiveness that suggests the influence of Thelonious Monk.

“Bird Vision” is an energetic, hard driving piece built around tight, riffy repeated phrases and motifs from piano and bass as Makynen’s cymbals chatter around the busy, tightly knit playing of Rissanen and Lotjonen. The bassist then features with a robust solo and Rissanen also takes the opportunity to stretch out.

The album closes with the title track, which begins with slow, sparse solo piano, the leader subsequently joined by Lotjonen’s bass and Makynen’s atmospheric cymbal splashes and shimmers.
This is a composition that unfolds slowly and organically over the course of its near eight minute duration, gradually opening like a flower, the mood shifting almost imperceptibly as the music progresses and subtly gathers intensity. It’s the piece that most obviously ‘tells a story’ and is the one that is most obviously rooted in the original cinematic concept.

With its tightly focussed energy, superb musicianship and high levels of group interaction “Amorandom” represents an impressive statement of intent from Rissanen and his team. This is a   group that has something fresh to say, avoiding the clichés of both writing for film and of the piano trio format itself. Although comparisons with groups with a similar instrumental configuration are inevitable the Aki Rissanen Trio has very much developed a sound of its own.

Rissanen and his colleagues will be performing a number of live dates around Europe during 2016 with the current schedule detailed below. Let’s hope that Edition will be able to tempt the group to the UK, I’d very much like to see Rissanen and the trio performing this music live. Perhaps a London Jazz Festival appearance in November might be a realistic possibility. 


Weds 13th April: ppianissimo Festival, Sofia, BULGARIA (solo)
Fri 15th April: ppianissimo Festival, Sofia, BULGARIA (trio)
Fri 21st April: April Jazz Festival, FINLAND
Thurs 19th May:  Koko Jazz Club Helsinki, FINLAND
Fri 20th May: Koko Jazz Club Iisalmi (Raatihuone),FINLAND
Fri 15th July: Pori Jazz Festival, (Main stage) FINLAND
Tues 2nd Aug: Aino Ackté Chamber Music Festival, Helsinki, FINLAND
Sat 17th Sept: Tuba, Oulu, FINLAND
Fri 2nd Dec: Flame Jazz, Turku, FINLAND

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