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Iiro Rantala and Ulf Wakenius

Good Stuff

ACT 9851-2 [44:36]

 

 

Iiro Rantala and Ulf Wakenius – Good Stuff

Vienna

Carmen

Helsinki

Palma

Seoul

Nessun dorma

Sir Duke

Berlin

What a Wonderful World

Rome

Giant Steps

Love the stuff/Ain´t no mountain high enough

Iiro Rantala (piano): Ulf Wakenius (guitar)

Recorded May 2017, ACT Art Collection, Berlin

 

The team of Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny is the most prominent piano-and-guitar duos of recent times but Iiro Rantala and Ulf Wakenius offer a European perspective on such matters in one of ACT’s typically quirky, digestible and engaging discs. I’m not sure quite how Siggi Loch keeps coming up with such versatile conjunctions of instrumentalists but, as his catalogue shows, he just does.

I’m also not sure Vienna sounds especially Mozartian, given that its contrapuntalism seems more to evoke Bach but it soon develops a light, breezy air with Wakenius’ warm strings burnishing the melody line with gentle, quixotic charm. The disc offers a geographical tour, with Helsinki suggesting the old school virtues of rolling pianism, hot breaks, Stride-like piano patterns; droll, delightful and not for a moment clichéd. A songful ease suffuses Palma that’s well-nigh filmic, whilst Seoul is warmly rhythmic, songfully funky. There’s a taut, rather edgier duo vibe for Berlin, city of techno and building works but Rome, Wakenius’ sole contribution to the cityscape panorama (Rantala composed the remainder), is a toe-tapping, catchy number.

There’s also a Classical subtext throughout. Bizet and Puccini are visited. The former is from Carmen, dextrously textured, whilst Nessun dorma – believe or not - isn’t subjected to Three Tenors-style grandiloquence; instead the piano-guitar duo traverses its lyricism with modesty and charm. Pop and Soul take their place at the table, too; Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke is a real foot-tapper and What A Wonderful World - which could easily become a cheese-fest - is here sustained by deft harmonies, and textual interplay, with some bluesy licks along the way, that keeps it decidedly attractive. Rock and Raunch rears its head in Love the Stuff and Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and the only conventional Jazz track is Coltrane’s Giant Steps and even this trips lightly, politely and indeed brightly. It only lasts 2:46 as well.

Many of ACT’s groups stand at a stylistic remove from straight-ahead models. There’s a sense in which some of them, indeed, intersect with artists on ECM’s roster. Sometimes definition offers mere default listening. Ensembles such as this one strive for sonic adventure, deft interplay, drawing on a wide range of musical resources. For me, whatever you call the music that results, the ethos is joyous, free and affirmative.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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