Juhani Aaltonen "To Future Memories" (Tum 2014) is a lovely set of music packaged beautifully in a tri-fold sleeve, with great art and a substantial booklet about the music and the artists. The packaging continues a long streak for TUM of beautiful presentations and is almost worth the price alone. The subtitle is "The Music of Antti Hytti", Hytti being a Finnish composer and bassist, and many of these pieces were created for movies or short films during the 1980s and 90s. Aaltonen played on the original scores and here is working with these pieces in a wholly new way as a tribute.
Aaltonen was born in 1935 and is a legendary player in Finland with a long discography. The group is made up of Aaltonen on tenor saxophone, flute and bass flute; Iro Haarla on piano; bassists Ulf Krokfors and Ville Herrala; Reino Laine on drums; and Tatu Ronkko on percussion.
"Reminiscence" begins with a drumbeat and then a slow and lovingly played saxophone melody over accompaniment of the piano, bass, and percussion. Aaltonen's improvisations begin as long flowing and lovely lines, gradually building in intensity and emotion with concurrent increases by the drums and cymbals until the music becomes freer and a bit strident. The percussion finally takes center stage with a solo of about a minute, after which the saxophone returns to its more mellow opening sound and the entire group settles back once more until the end is reached. While the middle section gets pretty intense and free, the overall composition is interesting and rest of the tune very nice.
"Kukunor" is a quieter piece that begins with the piano stating the melody, followed by the delicacy of Aaltonen's flute over the piano and the barest of brushing from the percussion. Taken at a slow and stately pace this is simply a beautiful song. Back and forth between the flute, piano, and bass, all supported by the whisper of the percussion, the piece is a quiet mediation on beauty.
"To Future Memories" opens with a bass solo and the quietest of support from the others, until at the two minute mark the saxophone slowly enters with an elegant melody line accompanied as well by some very interesting coloration by the percussionist. The melody is played quietly and flows very delicately and slowly over the other parts. At the five minute mark the piano takes over with its own delicate and lovely turn with the melody line over the bass and drums/percussion. Finally the saxophone rejoins and the entire ensemble delicately takes the piece to the end.
"Hilsi" features Aaltonen on the bass flute, a deep and resonant sound that creates a sense of muted elegence as this song opens. Again, it is a very slowly paced piece played quietly over quiet support by the drums and percussion. The tempo gradually picks up and the flute moves into its higher registers as the intensity builds and the notes get shorter and more rapid. The drumming increases the intensity of the piece along with the faster play of the flute during this middle section, and the bass plays a rapid series of notes underneath. the mellow feeling is replaced by a more anxious one, until finally the piece settles back with some nice rounded bass tones and a return to the flutes lower register and longer notes.
"Ursula" opens with a naked sax solo for half of the 3 minute piece (the shortest on the CD. The rest are about 7 to 9 minutes), and then is accompanied by some the piano comping. It's the shortest and simplest of the pieces and quite pretty. It is followed by "All the Birds", which opens with a somber piano meditation of about two minutes, after which the saxophone joins the piece and the piano begins comping. It is another slowly evolving piece of great emotion and beauty, played at a slow and elegant tempo. At about the midpoint both players fade out and there is a quiet bass solo with a hint of support from the percussion that gradually ends as the saxophone and piano re-enter and the entire ensemble brings the piece to a close.
"Haze" is the final piece and a more strident and somewhat more intense trip. Aaltonen's pace picks up throughout the piece, the dynamics grow in intensity, and the mellow sound of his instrument changes to a more strident tone. It is a harder listen than what has come before, not only played at a brisk tempo but also with less unity among the players. This is impressionism bordering on the avant garde.
Overall I was enraptured by this CD, one that I was unsure of when I began. The first and last pieces have some more difficult sections in them, compared to the gentleness of the impressionistic pieces between, but the overall CD is quite remarkable and a nice tribute to the compositions of Antti Hytti. This is for those who have an adventurous spirit.