Album reviews

Aki Rissanen – ‘Divided Horizon’

Aki Rissanen – Divided Horizon

(Edition Records EDN1177. Album review by Jon Turney)

This solo keyboard offering from a leading light of Finnish, and indeed European, jazz is a splendid hybrid creation. It is firmly rooted in traditional virtues, melodically and harmonically, but has novelties of sound that intrigue and impart a welcome freshness to the “player alone with a Steinway” routine.

The novelty comes courtesy of Aki Rissanen’s investigation of the Omniwerk, a unique instrument built for bassist – and  great-grandson of Sibelius – Lauri Porra. It combines two keyboards, one controlling a belt which bows strings, the other modelled on a baroque era keyboard lute. Between them, they give the player access to a vast range of tones, from violin-like sounds to a souped-up harpsichord.

Those characteristics suit Rissanen – a classically trained improviser in love with baroque music – very well. And he deploys the instrument more and more through this lockdown recording, complementing the unmodified acoustic piano that remains the backbone of the sessions’ sound. The first three of 13 short tracks, just a dozen minutes, are all piano. Other sounds begin to feature on the fourth, which has a light colouring from the bowed strings, or from sampled strings, or synths, or perhaps all three – Rissanen and his producers know but the listener doesn’t need to. The Omniwerk’s contribution increases, taking in two freely improvised pieces that explore the full range of the instrument, before a return to regular piano for the closer.

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It could sound gimmicky, but doesn’t. Each piece does its own thing and the artist produces well-judged combinations of effects as needed, just as he can blend musical inspirations from Bach, strongly felt in the piano pieces Streamlines and Prelude Oblique, or contemporary minimalism, or Chick Corea, to whom the brief My Finnish Heart pays tribute.

The pieces are pleasingly varied, but it feels right to experience the whole set in one go. One unifying quality is that Rissanen’s fondness for relatively simple melodic beginnings, and use of repeated figures, makes the whole affair feel relaxed – and relaxing – even when he moves into greater complexity. The effect is akin to some of the British pianist John Law’s best solo work. He also combines classical training with a commitment to improvisation and likes to experiment with new textures. It is easy to imagine him seizing the possibilities of the Omniwerk, but someone will have to build one in this country first. Meantime, this thoughtful exploration of possible old-but-new keyboard worlds is a delight.

Jon Turney writes about jazz, and other things, from Bristol. Twitter: @jonturney.


Divided Horizon is released on 18 June 2021

More background to Aki Rissanen and the Omniwerk

Edtion Records on Bandcamp

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