Juhani Aaltonen & Iro Haarla of Finland Create 'Kirkastus' on TUM Records [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt m.greenblatt@classicalite.com | Jan 04, 2016 02:21 PM EST
Saxophonist/Flutist Juhani Aaltonen (left) and pianist/harpist Iro Haarla (Photo : Jori Grönroos)

Saxophonist and flutist Juhani "Junnu" Aaltonen, 80, is one of Finland's most respected improvisers. He's led trios and quartets but this is his first duo. Pianist and harpist Iro Haarla, 59, has performed her original music in solo, duo, quintet, sextet and big band settings. Their first record together, Kirkastus (TUM Records), features her music but it's his personality that comes shining through.

Most of her 10 compositions were inspired by Bible Psalms. His tenor, flute, alto flute and bass flute, though, carry the day on such highlights as "Evening Prayer," "Nightjar," "Hear My Cry" and "Lead Me to the Rock." Her piano, harp and percussion act as accompaniment, except, of course, when she's given free rein to express her individuality in a series of solos that are as mellifluous as they are daring.

Still, it's Aaltonen's breathing that insinuates itself upon one's consciousness. He has a personal tone of such individual and idiosyncratic proportions that this reporter is hard-pressed to come up with like-minded precedents. It certainly will prompt more than a few ears to dig back a bit for his previous CDs like Conclusions (2009), Illusion of a Ballad (2006), Reflections (2004), Strings Revisited (2003), Rise (2001) and Déjà vu (2000).

Haarla's past work straddles jazz, folk, children's music and classical. At first, as a composer, she emulated Sibelius, Ravel and Verdi. Jazz efforts like Northbound (2005) and Vespers (2011) featured a Finnish/Norwegian lineup. Heart Of A Bird (2003) is a duo project with bassist Ulf Krokfors. Her work with the UMO Jazz Orchestra and, especially, with drummer/composer Edward Vesala (where she met Aaltonen) on Sound & Fury: Ode to the Death of Jazz (1989) shows a mature improviser willing to take chances and cross-pollinate genres.

Kirkastus, admittedly, isn't for everyone. At times, it seems to waft away like smoke from a cigarette disappearing into the air. Yet it serves as a gateway to other untold unknown pleasures by these two supremely talented European improvisers.

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