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Two and one does make sense

by Kevin Le Gendre

"The vocabulary of ambient electronica woven into the lexicon of acoustic jazz."

The semantic clash of the two words in the title Both Only is a thought-provoking way into consistently stimulating music. If there is indeed some kind of translation into sound then the sense of simmering tension and fraught atmosphere are obvious signposts, but the gentle structural drifts that make this album generate more light than heat are no less important, confirming the chemistry between pianist-leader Joona Toivanen, his brother, double bassist Tapani Toivanen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori. 

The trio has long been a favoured format for advanced, reflexive exchange between musicians, exerting a fascination on a wide variety of incumbents, some of whom opt for ‘tunes’ while others explore the tone poetry and playful whimsies of meter that may be easier to pull off in a small unit. On its 2000 debut Numurkah the trio showed compelling technical prowess but it has now matured to the extent that it can plumb emotional depths by way of distilled, sketch-like composition and concise improvisation. 

Joona Toivanen often pares his action down to understated rippling motifs, almost like a steady flow of water with the slightest increases of pressure, while Louhivuori takes centre stage, producing a range of off-ramp patterns that skip teasingly under the dark floating clouds of Tapani Toivanen’s bass. The astute blend of motion and stillness, as if the trio had woven the vocabulary of ambient electronica into the lexicon of acoustic jazz, lends to many of the songs an intriguing sense of meditation-disruption. 

Nowhere is this more effective than on Acceptance, which pits a gently rolling piano theme against an aggressively tetchy backbeat whose shifts of centre suggest the resistance that an individual has to overcome in order to achieve the resolution of the title. Several other songs also make statements that could be clear yet are still invitingly open-ended. Acceptance of what or whom? Both are possible. Only whosoever listens can decide. 

Joona Toivanen Trio: Both Only

Joona Toivanen, piano
Tapani Toivanen, bass
Olavi Louhivuori, drums

We Jazz Records, 2022