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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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How Long Is Now?

ACT 9823 - 2






1. Voyage

2. How Long Is Now?

3. Snapchat

4. Taksim By Night

5. Little Wing

6. Trust

7. Assisi

8. Kyrie

9. Each Breath

10. A Nut

11. Bruno

12. Topi

13. Choral

Iiro Rantala - Piano

Lars Danielsson - Bass

Peter Erskine - Drums, percussion

Finnish pianist and composer Iiro Rantala, now in his mid-forties, has, during a recording career which began in 1990, been on the roster of a succession of top labels, including Emarcy, Universal and EMI Blue Note. Latterly, though, he has been with ACT which is probably the perfect fit for his kind of music. Seemingly equally at home with jazz or classical (sample, for instance his rendition of Bach's Kyrie from the Mass in B minor on this disc) he is joined on this latest CD by two exceptional companions, namely the Swede Lars Danielsson and the American Peter Erskine. Danielsson is an impeccable bass player and gifted composer whom I heard most recently on an excellent album with his partner, personal and professional, the singer Cęcilie Norby, Just The Two Of Us. Peter Erskine, meanwhile, is perhaps best known for his time with super-group Weather Report from 1978 to 1982, when he formed a formidable team in the rhythm section with the bass guitarist Jaco Pastorius. As a drummer, both jazz and rock influences are apparent in his playing.

The first thing to say about this album is that it is consistently good. Track after track delivers memorable moments. Seven compositions are by Rantala, two by Danielsson and one by Peter Erskine. The remainder reflect Rantala's eclectic reach, being written by jazz pianist Kenny Barron, the immortal Jimi Hendrix and, as mentioned above, Johann Sebastian Bach. Among an embarassment of riches, particular mention should be made of Voyage, How Long Is Now? Assisi and Choral. Voyage is a vintage Kenny Barron piece. There's an excellent recording of it by the composer himself with Stan Getz, but this one stands comparison, not least for Rantala's rich vein of improvisation and the hint of what he calls 'Finnish tango'. How Long Is Now? is a superb ballad from the pen of Rantala, where the beautiful touch of the pianist is to the fore but where also there is some passionate bass playing from Danielsson. Assisi, another Rantala creation, has an urgent, even ominous beginning but morphs into a perky number spiced with humour and invention and full of joie de vivre. Choral is a brief, haunting tune by Danielsson where Rantala is almost reverent in his approach and Erskine's discreet brushwork is a delight.

Of course, there's much, much, more. The group are totally in sync on tracks such as the funky Each Breath with its gospel feel and a glorious contribution from Danielsson. Kyrie is stunning, though played virtually straight. Bruno and Topi evoke the contrasting personalities of Rantala's sons. Enough already. Rantala has shared some thoughts about his approach, namely 'The main idea is to avoid the basic concept of the jazz piano trio, and to make it more groovy, with simple melodies'. It really is worthwhile to listen to this album and to decide how far his vision is fulfilled. When music is as accessible as this, you'll find a lot of enjoyment along the way.

James Poore

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