Jussi Reijonen: Un (2013)
Finnish guitarist/oudist player Jussi Reijonen's debut, Un, seamlessly blends multiple ethnic influences into a stimulating whole, crackling with vitality and innovative spirit.
The opening "Serpentine" is a sonic tapestry of both eastern and western motifs. His sinuous oud and Palestinian percussionist Tareq Rantisi's resonant beats contrast nicely with Turkish pianist Utar Artun's more western sensibilities. Artun's elegiac lines flow over Swedish bassist Bruno Råberg's and Spanish drummer Sergio Menendez's deeply soulful vibes. The two currents weave around each other, making for undulating and mellifluous improvisations.
Levantine influences dominate the more traditional "Bayatiful" that features guest artist, Morocco born and Palestine native Ali Amr's qanun. A child prodigy and currently at Berklee College of Music, Amr's mastery of this quintessential Middle Eastern instrument is apparent as he explores melodic and rhythmic structures of both East and West in the interim creating a fantastical and folkloric ambience that is rooted in both cultures. Reijonen's "dialogue" with Artun has the lilting cadence and the flow of classical Arabic poetry.
Reijonen expands his palette to other heritages on a set of two other duets. On "Toumani," his West African-leaning fretted guitar is intensely lyrical with hints of the blues. Rantisi's careful clusters of tabla beats punctuate both the melody of the strings and the quiet pauses that frame it. The more ambient "Nuku Sei," a pairing of fretless guitar and bass, continues the utilization of silence as a canvas against which strings echo. The result is a delightful fusion of Northern European and Asian sounds. The piece does, however, becomes a tad repetitive as the theme drags on just a bit before a satisfying conclusion
This Nordic style of utilizing silent spaces to created haunting atmospheres runs through this impeccably recorded album. Contemplative percussive bass vamps open saxophonist John Coltrane's classic "Naima." Reijonen's sparse guitar notes fill the void between the two percussionists. The gradually evolving extemporization is quite spiritual in its effect. Artun and Reijonen exchange snippets of the original tune as they deconstruct and reconstruct the iconic composition.
The disc closes on an exquisite note with "Kalika." Guest vocalist Eva Louhivuori's beautifully expressive voice is framed by instrumentalists' angular harmonies. Her wordless vocalese, replete with heaves and sighs, soars over Reijonen's quietly dark tones. Råberg's intricate arco underscores the sensuality of Louhivuori's singing, while Artun's ardent playing amplifies her passionate delivery. The nocturnesque and pastoral unaccompanied guitar at times mimics a ney (reed flute), as the intimate and exciting solo brings the disc to a close.
With this cohesive and intriguing work, Reijonen and his international band of Berklee students and alumni delightfully demonstrate the universality of the musical language.
Track Listing: Serpentine; Naima; Bayatiful; Toumani (Blues For Mick); Nuku Sie; Kaiku.
Personnel: Jussi Reijonen: guitar, oud; Utar Artun: piano; Bruno Råberg: acoustic bass; Tareq Rantisi: percussion; Sergio Martinez: percussion; Ali Amr: qanun (3); Eva Louhivuori: voice (6).
Record Label: Self Produced