Jazz pianist and composer Riitta Paakki, who has led trios for more than 20 years, is not as well known as she should be. Her fourth album, released in 2015, was devoted to compositions by Wayne Shorter. The saxophone giant was the subject of Paakki’s dissertation when she became the first pianist – and the first woman – to earn a Finnish jazz doctorate.
Paakki’s fifth album is made up of strong originals rooted in the ‘60s hard bop tradition of Shorter and Herbie Hancock. Recorded at a rare live appearance at Helsinki’s Koko Jazz Club in early 2018, it’s a perfect showcase for her versatile keyboard and compositional skills, including the lushly romantic ballads Cha Pelle and St M.
Paakki’s trio is expanded with saxophonist Manuel Dunkel, a long-time mainstay of the UMO Jazz Orchestra. The addition of sax clearly ups the ante, providing a strong counterpoint to Paakki’s own soaring solos.
Dunkel’s presence charges the band up from the rowdy opening blues Åbo, but also threatens to overshadow the other three’s more subtle work. At times, his high-powered big-band playing seems slightly overbearing in this group, led by Paakki’s sensitive touch. Rhythm players Antti Lötjönen and Joonas Riippa are also of the understated, less-is-more school.
Still, the interplay between the hard-charging and the low-key provides a tantalising backdrop for Paakki’s masterful playing and compositions.
This LP is the first release by Helsinki’s Koko Jazz Club, aimed at Japanese fans of Finnish jazz. An expanded version is available for download.
RIITTA PAAKKI QUARTET: Live @ Koko Jazz Club
Riitta Paakki, piano
Manuel Dunkel, tenor saxophone
Antti Lötjönen, double bass
Joonas Riippa, drums
Koko Records 192914788928