by Ian Mann
October 20, 2019
An impressive statement from a trio that has successfully synthesised its influences and which is at the peak of its creative powers.
“Art In Motion”
(Edition Records EDN1134)
Aki Rissanen – piano, Antti Lotjonen – bass, Teppo Makynen - drums
“Art In Motion” is the third album release on the UK label Edition from the Finnish pianist and composer.
It follows “Amorandom” (2016) and “Another North” (2017), both of which are reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann.
Like its predecessors it features his long standing trio comprising bassist Antti Lotjonen and drummer Teppo Makynen.
Born in 1980 Rissanen 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 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 as part of 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.
Currently Rissanen also leads a quartet called Sininen Syksy, featuring classical soprano Mari Palo, guitarist Teemu Viinikainen and drummer Joonas Riippa, which performs the music of the Finnish composer Leevi Madetoja.
Rissanen has now appeared on ten albums as leader or co-leader, including two in the solo piano format. He has also played with the Finnish UMO Jazz Orchestra and collaborated with visual artists (Petri Ruikka) and playwrights (Kristian Smeds of the Finnish National Theatre).
Rissanen has also been part of numerous other productive, but now defunct units, over the course of the last decade, many of these international collaborations.
For all this it’s probably fair to say that the pianist’s primary creative outlet is this trio, a fact underlined by this new recording, the third album release from this line up in as many years. Lotjonen and Makynen are two of Finland’s leading exponents on their respective instruments and often work together as a unit, their credits including work with trumpeter Verneri Pohjola, saxophonist Timo Lassy and Makynen’s own Five Corners Quintet.
The title of Rissanen’s latest album, “Art In Motion”, is a play on the initial letters of ‘Aki Rissanen Trio’. It’s also a reference to the influence of art music from the European repertoire. Rissanen was originally trained as a classical musician and in his album notes he cites the composers Satie, Pergolesi, Bach, Ligeti and Stravinsky as being influences on his own writing. The material on the album includes arrangements of pieces by the Italian Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo and the contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara.
Alongside his classical training the young Rissanen also developed a love for electronic music and the attendant technology and actually acquired his first acoustic piano and first synthesiser at the same time. The rhythms of electronic dance music also inform his writing - “we are a rhythmically intense band inspired by the aesthetics of electronic music” he states.
Rissanen emphasises the level of interplay and interaction between the members of the trio, a process honed by a heavy touring schedule, and sees the group as “continuing the Nordic tradition as we see it”. He expands upon this by adding “we explore the roots of the current European jazz music from the outskirts of Europe with our perspective as Finnish artists with Nordic, Slavic and Western European heritage”. In these troubled times he is also keen to emphasise the message of “Unity in Diversity”.
He adds “We, as jazz musicians, are in constant motion because our art form doesn’t ever stand still”.
Rissanen’s writing for “Art In Motion” has seen him taking inspiration from his formative influences, as he explains;
“When I started to gather and compose the music for the new album I found myself noodling around tunes, moods and hooks that I had been absorbing when I was young”.
Not that there’s anything childish or unsophisticated about the sound of the Rissanen trio, although approaching the music from this direction does help to ensure that it is readily accessible, and rich in terms of both melody and rhythm. The blend of influences also ensures that the music embraces a variety of styles - “Unity in Diversity” indeed.
The album commences with Rissanen’s composition “Aeropeans”, an attention grabbing opener with its restless, interlocking rhythms immediately revealing something of that EDM influence. Meanwhile the leader’s piano melodies make fleeting allusions to classical music, while the performance as a whole is indubitably a jazz one. The rhythmic intensity of which Rissanen speaks is here in abundance during the course of a tightly focussed trio performance that sometimes reminds me of Edition label mates Phronesis, which is pretty much a recommendation in itself.
Makynen also has a background in electronic music and has worked in this field as a producer under the pseudonym Teddy Rok. His composition “Facts and Fiction” also draws inspiration from this field with its tight, sometimes skittering grooves, initially instigated by the bass and drum team.
There’s no let up in the intensity of the music, which is constantly evolving and includes solos from both Rissanen and Lotjonen, while Mykanen himself delivers a virtuoso drum performance.
There’s a welcome change of mood and pace with the trio’s interpretation of “Moro Lasso al Miolo Duolo”, the piece written by the Italian Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo. With Makynen now deploying brushes, and concentrating on more of colourist’s role, Rissanen draws on the lyricism and romanticism of classical music, while still giving the work a contemporary jazz twist.
The title of Rissanen’s own “Das Untemperierte Klavier” makes an obvious allusion to Bach but the rhythms that are deployed draw more obviously on hip hop and electronica. That said Bach himself was no stranger to rhythmic complexity and the advanced use of counterpoint. Rissanen’s piano melodies fleetingly allude to J.S. but it’s the relentless rhythms that best distinguish the track.
Rissanen’s own “Arborium” finds the trio adopting a slightly less frenetic approach as they combine flowing melodies with typically complex group interplay, with Makynen’s drums briefly coming to the fore.
The trio’s second classical interpretation finds them exploring “Cantus Arcticus, Melancholy”, written by the contemporary Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. The performance begins in atmospheric, lyrical fashion with Lotjonen’s melodic double bass prominent in the arrangement. As the piece develops the music becomes more intense as the instrumental interplay becomes more complex, but without losing the overall feel of the piece.
“Seemingly Radical” has been described as a “mutated bossa” and the piece features a particularly nimble contribution from Makynen, whose rhythmic percolations infuse the tune with much charm. The drummer also enjoys an extended feature towards the end of the piece, not the usual high octane hammering but a carefully constructed solo filled with nuance and colour. Rissanen himself, who solos at length, is relaxed and inventive at the keyboard throughout.
The simply titled “Love Song” is a solo piano performance that effectively finds Rissanen sparring with himself, with weighty left hand figures contrasting with lightly dancing right hand melodies. The pianist then brings everything together in a dramatic, virtuoso, high energy closing section.
The album concludes with the anthemic march of “Alava Maa”, a piece that features one of Rissanen’s simplest, but most effective melodies. A highlight here is Lotjonen’s melodic, but deeply resonant cameo on double bass just before the close.
With “Art In Motion” Rissanen and his trio continue to refine their approach as they build on the promise of their two previous Edition releases. The blend of jazz, classical and electronic influences works well as the trio continue to develop an increasingly personal sound.
The electronica influence isn’t as overt as, say. GoGo Penguin and is well integrated into the trio’s sound alongside the other components. The Rissanen Trio have inevitably been compared to E.S.T.
, but I don’t hear too much of that in their sound at all. The other obvious comparison is Brad Mehldau, which is nearer the mark, while I offer you Phronesis.
But at the end of the day the Rissanen trio is an increasingly distinctive and individual unit whose music is very much their own and transcends these comparisons. “Art In Motion” is an impressive statement from a band that has successfully synthesised its influences and which is at the peak of its creative powers.
There are a number of live dates scheduled in Germany and France in the coming months but let’s hope Edition can get the trio over to the UK at some point.
For details of forthcoming live performances please visit;
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