Half Notes: Juhani Aaltonen and Heikki Sarmanto – Conversations (2011)

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Photo by Jori Grönroos.

Two major figures from the first generation of Finland’s modern jazz musicians saxophonist Juhani Aaltonen and pianist Heikki Sarmanto have played together for nearly fifty years, recording some thirty albums together in a variety of settings along the way. With that much history between them, you’d think that they’d have the mutual telepathy to pull off a duet record of improvisions, and you’d be right. Conversations, the product of such an encounter, is a little astounding that through two CD discs holding sixteen extended pieces, the music remains consistently dulcet and often sentimental, with nary an odd note heard anywhere. Aaltonen squonks on his sax only briefly on a few tracks for punctuation, “When I Was With You” and “Le Petit Soldat,” but otherwise plays with sensitivity and reserved curiosity. Sarmanto, lets his chords flower often in arpeggiated fashion, which gives his saxophonist partner a soft bed on which to gently articulate. Actually, not every song was made up on the spot: many of the tracks were composed by one of the other, and a couple of standards (“How And The Night And The Music,” “Alone Together”) were performed, but the approach by the two remains the same throughout, creating a extensive collection of performances that all connect together into a single and contemplative artwork.

Conversations was released last December 13 on TUM Records.

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‘Half Notes’ are quick-take thoughts on music from Something Else! Reviews, presented whenever the mood strikes us.

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