Finnish pianist-composer Kari Ikonen divides his new, first solo piano album in the same manner that one of his favorite painters, Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky, divided his works: «Impressions, Improvisations and Compositions». The Improvisations were spontaneous expressions of an internal mood or feeling, directly from the artist’s soul. Impressions were improvisations as well, but with external influences, such as music or nature. Compositions were also expressions of inner visions, but more consciously and meticulously designed and containing more complex structures.
Ikonen’s Impressions are inspired by Arabic scales – maqams, paintings or stories. Other pieces are «pure» Improvisations and some are written Compositions. «Impressions, Improvisations and Compositions» was recorded at Iknoen’s home in Helsinki in august 2019, with his own Steinway B211 grand piano. He employed on few pieces his own invention, the Maqiano (from the words maqam and piano) – a portable micro-tuning device, that enables the pianist to play the Arabic scales and other micro intervals on the piano. He borrowed microphones and preamps, pressed the record button, and enjoyed. Ikonen composed all the pieces, except for a cover of Wayne Shorter’s «Pinocchio» (originally performed on Miles Davis’ «Nefertiti», with Herbie Hancock on the piano, Columbia, 1968).
«Compositions. Impressions, Improvisations» realizes beautifully Ikoen’s profound affinity with Arabic, Middle Eastern and Turkish music, and his very personal way of incorporating its vocabulary and syntax into his own aesthetics. But Ikonen does not attempt to transform his piano or his music into a reverent homage to the great Arabic music. His exquisite techniques, and his piano, with or without the Maqiano, has a different resonance from any common instrument in Arabic music. Ikonen makes these sonic ideas his own, in his own impressive way.
The album begins with the improvised «Imprologue» where Iknoen plays with percussive sounds and irregular rhythms. «Maqtu’ah on Maqam Rast» is impressed by the maqam Rast – common in Kurdish, Persian, Arabic and Sephardic Jewish music – that has a special character between major and minor. He plays the roles of the soloist, the orchestra and percussionist that answer and repeats the soloist theme, as played in traditional Arabic music, but introduces his own jazz language to the refined articulation of the maqam. His version of Shorter’s «Pinocchio» keeps the playful but complex feeling of the original piece. The dizzy improvisation «Rausch» is titled after a painting by Paul Klee, Kandinsky’s close friend and colleague from his Munich period. «Taqsim on Maqam Saba» is impressed by and based on one of the most popular maqams in Arabic music, but Iknoen’s turns it into a hypnotic piece, and deepens this vein on the impressionist and minimalist «Blue», titled after Kandinsky’s painting and the album cover.
«Violet» and «Oppressive» are short improvisations titled after Kandinsky’s paintings. «Koto» means home in Finnish, but incorporates the sound of the Japanese koto and uses the Japanese Nijukumoiyoshi scale. Iknoen alternates between strumming the piano strings like a koto player and reflecting on these dreamy, resonating sounds on the piano keyboard. The melancholic and minimalist improvisation «Three-Chord Blues» was recorded before on Iknoen Trio’s «Bright» (Ozella, 2013). «Trance Oriental» continues this lyrical vein, based loosely around the maqam Hijazkar, but transforms the complex polyrhythms of the maqam into a playful jazz piece. The last, most beautiful piece, «The Evergreen Earth», is, according to Iknoen, «a surrealistic vision, where the Earth, no matter how badly we are treating it, seems green and healthy forever».
40 minutes of musical bliss, great musicianship and wonderful imagination.
Kari Ikonen (p)