on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2018 16 Apr

Kristjan Randalu

von: Brian Whistler Filed under: Blog | TB | 5 Comments


Estonian pianist Randalu has always impressed me with his technical mastery and subtle arranging chops, but takes it up another notch on the new ECM release, Absence.

The opening track, Forecast is one of the most stunning pieces I’ve heard in a very long time, starting with an out of time meditative opening, moving into shimmering arpeggios of light with a haunting repeating melody, and suddenly opening up into a powerful piano solo. You can hear the classical inspiration from composers such as Erkki-Sven Tüür and Tõnu Kõrvits, both of whom had been his mentors at one time. This classical harmonic approach serves the music well – it fits in with the ECM aesthetic, yet integrates rigorous classical discipline with spontaneous improvisation in a unique, fresh approach.

Besides his compositional excellence, Randalu is a prodigious improviser. His chemistry with guitarist Ben Monder is palpable here, and drummer Markku Ounaskari’s supple playing is the glue that pulls it all together.

This trio is so dynamic and huge sounding that at first I barely noticed the absence of a bass player. Overall, this album serves up a soft palette of musical colors, veering from the melancholic to the ecstatic, occasionally taking  a detour to some surprisingly dark spaces. Once in a while, the power of this trio comes thru the generally gauzy sonic veils, hinting at what they must sound like live and unleashed. (There are some good videos on YouTube.)

The music flirts with ambient and free playing in a couple places, but Randalu’s sense of structure and form keeps it from becoming diffuse or unfocused.

Music of startling beauty and originality, this album will easily be on my top 10 list for 2018.


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  1. Lajla:

    Did you discover Randalu through my post of Elmau? Randalu is very attractive in many ways. He is the newest baby of Manfred.

  2. Andreas:

    Well spoken Brian !! Thanks for posting this wonderful review !

    I really appreciate Ben Monder’s subtle, sensitive playing in between the genres as well. Perfect match on „Absence“ .

    He caught my attention with his first solo album on ECM …
    I hope there will be more stuff like this soon …

  3. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Am 21.Juni gibt es im Deutschladfunk ein Porträt von Ben Monder, abends um 21.05 Uhr.

  4. Brian Whistler:

    Actually, I discovered Randalu through a live bootleg recording
    sent to me by a german friend. (I seem to have some karma with Germany?) It’s a collaboration with Ngyugen Le in which Randalu arranged a number of Le’s pieces for a somewhat larger ensemble. I was so impressed that I sought out other recordings and discovered Confidance, which totally blew me away. As far as I’m concerned, It’s right of there with Jarrett’s Facing You, maybe better. What a solo album!

    It’s interesting that Eicher finds these young talents with unbelievable chops and, as he did with Django Bates and Aaron Parks, reigns them in with his producer perspective, often resulting in the most refined performances these artists have put “on tape.”

    If you watch the amazing 2015 performance of the Wasilewski trio @Jazz Baltica on YouTube, you see a lot of fire that just doesn’t get on record. These guys hit hard. That’s the down side of throttling down these young giants. I get it: it’s all part of the ECM aesthetic, and it’s also of staying focused on the compositions, as opposed to going after the energy and wildness of a live performance.

    Obviously, live and studio recordings are two entirely different animals. I wish all of these aforementioned artists would make live recordings on this label with its characteristic great sound.

    And as it turns out, Wasilewski trio is coming out with a live album on ECM next fall.

  5. Brian whistler:

    Also, there’s a wonderful duo album I recently discovered with Randalu and Ben Monder called Equilibrium. It’s Absolutely brilliant.

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