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Aki Rissanen

Another North


by Ian Mann

January 02, 2018


Finds Rissanen and his colleagues realising an increasingly interactive and individual group sound that demands that they be regarded as one of the world’s most exciting & distinctive piano trios.

Aki Rissanen

“Another North”

(Edition Records EDN 1101)

“Another North” is the second release for Edition Records by the Finnish pianist and composer Aki Rissanen. It follows his acclaimed début for the label, “Amorandom”, which was released in 2016.

Born in 1980 Rissanen studied in Finland, France, Germany and the USA and has established a successful career as both a leader and a sideman, collaborating with many leading musicians from both sides of the Atlantic, among them the American saxophonists Dave Liebman and Rick Margitza.

In the UK he first came to public attention as part of the various groups led by his compatriot and label mate the trumpeter and composer Verneri Pohjola. Rissanen  appeared on both of Pohjola’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 he appeared as part of Pohjola’s quartet at that year’s EFG 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.

Currently Rissanen also leads a quartet entitled Sininen Syksy featuring classical soprano Mari Palo, guitarist Teemu Viinikainen and drummer Joonas Riippa which performs the music of the Finnish composer Leevi Madetoja.

“Amorandom” is a hard act to follow with that album attracting a compelling amount of critical acclaim and garnering a number of prestigious awards, among them a Finnish Grammy and the Emma Award for the Best Jazz Album in 2016.

Unsurprisingly Rissanen has stuck by the same personnel that helped to make “Amorandom” such a success. He is joined once more by bassist Antti Lotjonen, with whom he also worked in the Pohjola quartet, and by drummer Teppo Makynen, leader of the acclaimed Finnish band Five Corners Quintet.

Reviewing “Amorandom” I wrote of the trio’s “tightly focussed energy” and that’s a quality that is readily apparent again here as Rissanen and his colleagues seek to subvert the clichés normally associated with “Nordic jazz” and the ‘Nordic’ piano trio in particular. Taking its lead from “Bird Vision”, one of the more energetic pieces on the “Amorandom” album the trio have been developing that side of their music with Rissanen declaring “ our desire to delve deeper in this direction became stronger. As a trio we wanted to collectively discover a greater intensity and energy, to stand out as a trio from the North. This music is the sum of that exploration”

As the pianist explains further in his liner notes;
“We’re not in the business of re-inventing the wheel when it comes to piano trios. However we’re confident enough to re-imagine a piano trio from the North, one that storms the conventional Nordic jazz barricades! The music on this album circulates around the ideas we have been developing for the last few years, framed within the Nordic tone as we hear it. Slowly evolving harmonic and rhythmical textures,, unhurried but highly energetic intensity and compositions designed to blur the line between the composed material and the improvisation have been the means by which we define the sound of our trio. My goal as a composer and improviser has always been to explore different genres of music and to look at the points of contact between traditions. Jazz, contemporary classical and non-Western musics have been my resources to widen and enrich the palette of my possibilities. Over time I’ve tried my best to internalise these goals and taken pains in my writing to avoid any self-conscious fusion of playing styles drawing on my playing experiences in diverse idioms. We hope that those who subscribe to the stereotype of the Nordic piano trio will be both rewarded and pleasantly surprised. This is our ‘Another North’.”

The busy opener “Blind Desert” packs a lot of information into its 6.47 duration as it combines driving rhythms with darker, more reflective episodes. Darting, rapidly repeated piano phrases borrow from the concepts of minimalism but invest them with a very contemporary energy and urgency. Rissanen’s playing becomes increasingly percussive, Makynen’s drumming is busy and inventive and constantly evolving, while Lotjonen’s muscular bass lines both anchor the group while periodically breaking cover and coming into the foreground. There are no jazz solos as such but there is the sense that the music is constantly unfolding via the shifting emphases.

“John’s Son’s”, written by the late Finnish pianist Jarmo Savalainen (1961-2009), maintains the energy levels with its vaguely Jarrett-ish gospel style vamps and urgent, skittering drum grooves. Structurally it’s similar to the opener but the trio still find plenty of fresh territory to explore in a highly interactive performance that sees various individuals coming to the fore at different junctures, but still eschewing conventional jazz soloing as such.

There’s no let up with “New Life and Other Beginnings” with its taut rhythms echoing the worlds of rock and hip hop. There’s a bristling, pent up energy about the piece that is perhaps best exemplified by the urgent snap and crackle of Mykanen’s bustling drum work.

Effectively bisecting the album is Rissanen’s arrangement of Gyorgy Ligeti’s fifth piano etude “Etude 5: Arc-en-ciel Re-imagined” with the pianist stating; “the composition was influenced by the music of Bill Evans and the polyrhythmic elements found in jazz – a happy happenstance as Evans has been a huge inspiration for me”. The classically trained Rissanen delivers a highly satisfying interpretation on the most straightforwardly lyrical piece on the album. Lotjonen’s melodic bass also features while the hitherto busy Makynen offers sparse, subtle but effective percussion shading.

Solo piano introduces “Nature Of The Beast” before Lotjonen’s bass briefly takes over the melodic lead. However the gentle introductory passages are soon left far behind as the piece develops a bustling energy with piano and drums particularly active. However there are still elements of light and shade with more reflective episodes briefly punctuating the feverish, hurtling activity.

“Before The Aftermath” features a martial drum pattern from Makynen and another Jarrett-like melody from Rissanen which provides the basis for further extemporisation with the pianist delivering joyously rolling blues / gospel phrases. In the context of the album as a whole it’s one of most obviously orthodox jazz pieces.

The album closes with “Hubble Bubble”, a composition jointly credited to Rissanen, Lotjonen and Makynen that builds on the brief opening piano motif to good effect. Rissanen’s repeated phrase underpins Makynen’s neatly energetic drum explorations before the piano takes on a more central role as the piece continues to develop, gradually gaining momentum and incorporating a relatively conventional piano solo supported by Lotjonen’s rapid bass walk and Makynen’s brisk, inventive, highly detailed drumming. There’s also a sparkling dialogue between bass and drums as the music continues to embrace an orthodox jazz structure before resolving itself with an energetic closing passage of spirited group interplay.

“Another North” builds upon the promise of both “Aleatoric” and “Amorandom” while developing further some of the ideas first explored on the latter. It’s a more energetic, more intense recording than either of its predecessors and its rhythmic drive and sharp focus are sometimes reminiscent of the music of label mates Phronesis, an Anglo-Scandinavian trio led by Danish bassist Jasper Hoiby who also transcend the typical ‘Nordic’ template. 

But “Another North” finds Rissanen and his colleagues realising an increasingly interactive and individual group sound that demands that they be regarded as one of the world’s most exciting and distinctive contemporary piano trios.

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