CD REVIEW: Kristjan Randalu – Absence


Kristjan Randalu - Absence
(ECM 672 2679 . CD review by Mike Collins)


Pianist Kristjan Randalu debuts on ECM with this striking recording that combines an austere and often abstract beauty with fiery passion. He has remarkable company with Brooklyn-based doyen of the guitar Ben Monder and Finnish drummer Markku Ounaskari. Randalu and Monder have collaborated before, releasing a duo album a few years go and their affinity is palpable on this album. Adding Ounaskari to the mix was inspired.

The nine pieces are all Randalu’s and he references his Estonian heritage as one of the inspirations. Washes of sound and texture evaporate for glittering cascades of arpeggios to dominate with slow moving melodic lines as counterpoint. Singing, glowing chords cycle through sequences interspersed with muted electronic haze or angular, spiky lines from the guitar. A Jazz Times writer once said of Monder that "he’s no stranger to Schoenberg" and we hear that side of him as well as the artist of texture and moods or moving chords that strike a melodic arc.

Forecast begins with rich open piano chords, Randalu allowing them to ring and hang in the air. Then a burst of energy spreads patterns across the piano, the guitar woven tightly within the blend, doubling one of the piano’s lines, drums shadowing the pulse and lightly colouring the sound.

Lumi is pure abstraction, piano and guitar tip-toeing around meditative cymbal flurries before a precisely scripted rippling, mutating motif appears briefly, piano and guitar locked together again, swelling to a dramatic climax. Sisu interposes, built around cycling repetitions of chords and rhythmic patterns, settling on a vamp of deceptive simplicity and bittersweet beauty. Then Lumi II returns, referring fleetingly to the theme, before Randalu and Monder unpack the ideas, turning them inside out and upside down.

It’s a set that draws the listener in and there are riches a-plenty as a reward for repeated listen. It closes with Absence, that has a plaintive air of lament over steadily pulsing chords and threads of dissonance. Both Randalu and Monder solo with melodic and simple expressiveness. It’s an exquisite moment.

This is a trio conversation throughout, but unmistakably Randalu’s project. I was reminded, just occasionally of British pianist John Taylor, in the choice of a chord, or the way, in a solo, an exhilarating momentum propels patterns and ideas forward. Checking Randalu’s biog, it appears he studied with Taylor in Cologne. Randalu draws on many sources however, and this album is a great addition to the ECM catalogue, a distinctive and compelling listen.

Mike Collins is a pianist and writer based in Bath, who runs the jazzyblogman site. Twitter @jazzyblogman

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