Iiro Rantala and Ulf Wakenius – Good Stuff
What a Wonderful World
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.