Joona Toivanen Trio / Both Only / We Jazz – By Cal Gibson

Super review by Cal Gibson, of The Secret Soul Society and Scruffy Soul Recordings.

Here in the always wonderful South Wales, the first couple of months of the year tend toward the mind-meltingly humdrum. The weather is grey, the sky is greyer, the rain incessant: the mood is correspondingly low. The holidays are but tinselled memories already and we are all hunkered down, moodily awaiting another crack at spring’s longed-for renewal. What better to suit the mood then, than some downbeat Nordic jazz courtesy of pianist Joona Toivanen and his sparring partners on drum and bass, Tapani Toivanen and Olavi Louhivuori.

You’ll look in vain here for extravagant splashes of colour or bright swathes of sound, but what you will discover are a finely-chiselled set of compositions that make the most of the trio’s limited palette: flint-sharp melodies hewn from the ice, crisp and crackling rhythms. Tapani’s nimble bass runs percolating underneath it all. Classic shapes tweaked here and there for added urgency. Enlightened sets the mood: repeated piano figures let that bass spring into life, veering off into panoramic highways and byways before coming back to the main theme – light, certainly, deft – plenty of space within the grooves, the players settling down, enjoying the journey. Destination: low, looming left hand chords, injecting darkness into said light. 

Direction begins with a suggestion of dub’s spatial awareness, sun-kissed high piano lines emerging from the gloom: subtle electronics pulsing in the undertow – a dream turning sourer by the second. The percussion clicks and clacks, drones pile on the sorrow, the world seen slightly askew, through a glass darkly. Moody atmospherics for sure. 

Of Profession shuffles into view with all the world weariness of a seven-pints-a-day street drinker, stumbling, bumbling, mumbling about the inequities of life – downbeat, fractured, with melancholy dug deep in its bones. A soundtrack to the season, essentially. 

Faculties continues the glacial theme, a lonely mountain pathway edging the traveller ever higher, oxygen levels running low, the head whirling with fragments of sound – minimal melodies repeated until the summit heaves into view. It`s all thoughtful, lovely, considered music-making: quiet moments for quiet months, a time for reflection, a time to take stock: How did I get here? This is not my beautiful wife. Letting the days go by, until all too soon the days run out (sooner than we think, alas). Digging deep into our internal worlds: excavating the unseen, shining a light into the dark. Art, as always, saving our sorry asses.

Joona Toivanen Trio`s Both Only will be released on February 25th, care of Helsinki’s We Jazz. 

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