Album reviews

Jussi Reijonen, ‘Three Seconds/ Kolme Toista’

Jussi Reijonen, Three Seconds/ Kolme Toista

(Challenge Records CR 73545. Album review by Rachel Coombes)

Resistant to categorisation, Jussi Reijonen’s compositions merge together such a wide range of musical styles and ‘languages’ that one feels an urge to parse each work and assiduously breakdown its constituent parts (which range from Arabic maqamat to a spacious and expansive Nordic idiom). There is much satisfaction in appreciating his music this way, but it perhaps does not do justice to the overarching sense of direction to his musical ideas, nor to the naturalness with which these musical cultures are fused in the composer’s imagination. Reijonen’s latest album, Three Seconds / Kolme Toista (which follows his 2013 debut album Un) consists of a ‘Transcultural Suite’ of five movements, each of which navigate a fascinatingly broad musical palette.

The Finnish-born guitarist, oud player and composer has absorbed the vernacular sounds of the countries in which he has lived – Finland, Tanzania, Jordan, Oman, Lebanon and the United States – and brought them to bear on his own compositional style. Reflecting his desire for intercultural synthesis, Reijonen hasbrought together a group of nine musicians from across the globe. Joining him are the American trumpeter Jason Palmer, drummer Vancil Cooper and bassist Kyle Miles; Turkish trombonist Bulut Gülen and microtonal pianist Utar Artun; Jordanian-Iraqi violinist Layth Sidiq; Palestinian cellist Naseem Alatrash, and Japanese percussionist Keita Ogawa.

The first movement, “The Veil” begins with a haunting solo from Naseem Alatrash on the cello, which is then fortified by Gülen’s trombone; slowly, with the help of the thudding bass drum, momentum is built, only to drop away again to accommodate a more relaxed improvisatory feel. This ebb and flow continues throughout the seven-minute movement, up until a pleasingly drawn-out resolution in D minor. Layth Sidiq shines in the second movement “Transient”, the electronic amplification of his violin generating an expansive feel to the modal Middle-Eastern melody. Sidiq gives way to a crystalline oud solo from Reijonen, accompanied by an off-beat pattern from Ogawa on percussion. The effect is one of slow, weighty movement – perhaps of unhurriedly ‘passing through’ a place, in the sense of a transient journey.

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Reijonen’s guitar riffs in “The Weaver” give this movement a gentle rock feel, but any sense of stable diatonic harmony is soon dismissed by bold discordant string entries. A brief pizzicato violin solo provides the next prominent musical idea; it appears later in the cello and guitar, acting, like Reijonen’s initial guitar riff, as a motivic glue within the movement. The textural ‘ebbs and flows’ that have characterized previous movements are taken to a new extreme in “Verso” (which in Finnish means “to sprout” or “to grow”). An undulating, introspective opening led by Reijonen on guitar is suddenly subverted by an exuberant burst of sound from the full band; piano glissandi and furious improvisatory flourishes on the strings throw the listener off course in a playful manner. Palmer on the trumpet then strikes up a musical conversation with Sidiq on the violin, allowing both musicians the chance to flaunt their virtuosic instrumental flair. The intertwining mournful melodic lines in the final movement, “Median”, build slowly into a wash of musical colour, before slowly fading to a concluding passage of contemplative stillness.

This is an album meticulously pulled together into a dense fabric of diverse musical threads. It merits repeated listening; with each fresh listen, the richness of Reijonen’s intercultural vocabulary becomes more apparent.

LINK: Jussi Reijonen wrote a feature for LJN: “10 Tracks of Oud Performances I Can’t Do Without”

Challenge Records

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