Juhani Aaltonen

To Future Memories

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Finnish saxophone maestro Juhani Aaltonen may not be as well known as others from his nation, and if that's the case it is because of his work as a sideman with Arild Andersen and Tomasz Stánko on ECM. Among his countrymen, however, he is lauded properly as a master musician and visionary. To Future Memories features his working quartet -- pianist Iro Haarla, bassist Ulf Krokfors, and drummer Reino Laine -- appended by two additional players in bassist Ville Herrala and percussionist Tatu Rönkkö. Issued on TUM, the program consists entirely of compositions written by Antti Hytti, a bassist, instructor, and sound engineer who has worked in one of Aaltonen's trios, as well as with Edward Vesala, Alexander von Schlippenbach, and many others. Opener "Reminiscence" is an early ballad. Its theme was performed by the Tomasz Stánko-Edward Vesala Quartet, but here is transformed into something simultaneously more expansive, airy, and turbulent. Aaltonen's tenor solo is illuminated by Haarla's sparse and gradually assertive piano interjections, arco and pizzicato bass, rolling snares, cymbals, and insistent percussion. It shifts dramatically from light to twilight, first with a questioning undertone, then a brooding intensity that explodes with feeling in the margins but never loses the bluesy tenderness at the tune's heart. The title work, dedicated to the late author Jussi Kylätasku, is framed by the suggestion of grief and longing with whining, crying rubbed cymbals and pizzicato bass before the band enters in a somber, moving elegy dressed in subtle colors and melodic if gauzy improvisation. "Hiisi," composed for a short film, is a showcase for the canny interplay between Aaltonen's flute, drums, and percussion. "All the Birds" is a lovely showcase for Haarla; she is able to contrast her various voices inside its lyric and impressionistic modal center. Aaltonen's gritty entry may rise to the top near the middle, but her cascades of colorful chord voicings keep her at the forefront of its development. Closer "Haze" is pretty much an all-out, post-modal workout, with knotty changes and explosive playing from the entire ensemble, and features Aaltonen at his rawest, near-honking, howling best. All told, To Future Memories is a marvelous offering. Its roots may lie in outside jazz, but its discipline and songlike qualities are numerous and profound.

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